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California Drought: 8-year-old ‘Lawnbuster’ is changing the world one yard at a time

<i>KPIX</i><br/>Ridhann Desai is part of a small army of citizen-volunteers called Lawnbusters. They go from home to home
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KPIX
Ridhann Desai is part of a small army of citizen-volunteers called Lawnbusters. They go from home to home

By Kiet Do

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    SAN JOSE, California (KPIX) — The past three years have been the driest on record in California and officials warn that streak could continue.

Most of the state is under severe-to-exceptional drought conditions, fueling risks for wildfires and putting Central Valley farmers in an even bigger pinch, as they struggle to keep their crops alive.

The weather, in next couple of months, will determine if there will be some relief for the state. Until then, water officials say conservation needs to remain a way of life.

That’s exactly what a group of volunteers in the South Bay set out to do. Among them, an 8-year-old ‘lawnbuster’ who’s giving back to his community one drought-resistant yard, at a time.

When it comes to battling the drought, size does not matter.

Ridhann Desai would rather be out here, than at home playing video games (Ridhaan Desai, 8-years-old:

“Yeah, I like to do this,” he said.

Yes, Ridhaan Desai actually wants to spend his Saturday mornings just like this, garden tools in hand, baking in the noonday sun.

He’s part of a small army of citizen-volunteers called Lawnbusters. They go from home to home, replacing grassy yards with drought tolerant plants.

It is hot, sweaty, dirty work and Ridhaan has been at it for more than a year.

Outdoor irrigation makes up about half of residential water use which puts lawns on the frontlines in the battle for water conservation.

But not everybody who wants to get rid of their grass can afford to do so. Which is why the nonprofit, Our City Forest launched Lawnbusters.

Bridget Thorpe helps to run the Lawnbusters program, which serves older people, veterans, and low-income families. Since 2015, they’ve converted about 200 lawns.

Consider this. The average 500 square foot lawn uses 15,000 gallons of water a month. As for the actual lawn busting, homeowners pay for the materials, but the volunteer labor is free.

As for their clientele?

“I think it’s people that see that we’re in a climate crisis,” said Thorpe. “And they want to help and they’re looking for a way to make an impact in their community. And it’s honestly heartwarming because it’s not on the individual to make an impact, right? It’s on the community to make a difference.”

On this Saturday morning, the Lawnbusters descended on a home in Willow Glenn. They worked over two days, laid down cardboard to suffocate and kill the grass and mulch to retain moisture. They put in dozens of plants that will sequester carbon, capture runoff, and provide food and habitat for wildlife.

The Lawnbusters got it done in a total of just 8 hours.

“I’m just overjoyed. It humbled me,” said homeowner Gene Handloff.

Handloff, now 96-years-old, says the volunteers saved him several hundred dollars. He said he was really touched.

“I really was. Yeah, because, people, they don’t know me. And they’re working out here shoveling mulch and compost, and planting little plants all for me,” said Handloff. “I’m glad I was able to do my part. Actually it was done for me.”

For young Ridhaan, why he does it is simple. He points to the common Jewish phrase ‘Tikkun olam,’ which is Hebrew for ‘world repair.’

“One small step can fix or heal the world,” said Ridhaan. “That’s powerful.”

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