Theoretical 'Sharemow' concept has potential

In the March issue, I described my family’s journey from a “tidy” yard, to a lawn full of violets. I described how these violets feed rabbits, and how these rabbits feed red-tailed hawks. Thinking about lawn care inspired me to bring the topic to a 200-student class I teach at CWRU. In the class, students considered a theoretical business concept called “ShareMow." 

The premise: Why should every household purchase expensive yard maintenance equipment used for an hour or less a couple times per month? Could sharing quiet, emissions-free electric lawn mowers and leaf blowers be a viable alternative with multiple benefits to the community? Shared equipment relieves households of some expenses, and frees up garage space. The Sharemow concept involved one neighbor hosting the equipment in a solar-powered shed, while other neighbors reserved the equipment via an app. Potential benefits included reducing noise pollution and emissions, freeing up some income, and building community among households (which has established benefits for public safety).

Students explored this business concept, considering potential problems and solutions. They learned electric mowers and leaf blowers are significantly quieter than gas-powered. They also considered lawn care in a cultural context: What looks untidy to one looks beautiful to another. Some talked about the pride family members take in immaculate green lawns and in working in the landscaping section; others came from parts of the world where lawns are considered bizarre. Students worried about liability (who is responsible for injuries?), and noted that ShareMow would be in low demand in neighborhoods with large properties that hire commercial lawn care services. Choosing the right neighborhood and a convenient location for potential participants would be important.

ShareMow was a student exercise, but there is genuine potential. Sharing electric equipment among neighbors addresses affordability, reduces the resource consumption necessary to manufacture equipment, and encourages sharing of other neighborhood resources. It represents a shift in mindset that could benefit our community’s emergency and resiliency planning. It could be a pilot project for establishing neighborhood battery backup resources for emergencies. The app is an opportunity for student involvement, perhaps a STEAM project for our brilliant Heights middle- and high-school students. Heights students could also learn about solar panel installation and electrical energy production and storage. 

Heights High students have demonstrated their ability to share their gifts with our community, and the project is a good fit for existing community assets such as the Home Repair Resource Center’s tool lending library. Having a mower go to a street, rather than a household, would expand capacity in the city’s gas-to-electric mower swap, too.

I appreciate the city’s efforts to improve air quality, reduce emissions, and reduce noise pollution. Such efforts may require pushing residents to re-think what is possible. We can respectfully and collaboratively negotiate aesthetic differences, cultural traditions, and economic models. Mitigating climate change requires us to do anything and everything we can.

Meanwhile, my family enjoys the results of our beautifully untidy yard. Since we started using electric equipment and rakes, leaving leaves in beds and shredding some for compost, and ending our use of herbicides and pesticides, our soil is healthier, better able to absorb stormwater, and more resilient in dry conditions. We offer welcoming habitat for other creatures and enjoy a quieter yard and healthier air. And the violets, rabbits, and hawks are thriving.

Fey Parrill

Fey Parrill teaches at Case Western Reserve University.

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Volume 17, Issue 4, Posted 10:50 AM, 03.28.2024