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Source: Dow Jones Newswires article by Al Lewis

We plant it, water it, fertilize it, cut it, stuff it into bags and then throw it away.

It's called grass. It is one of the least productive crops we grow. And we are increasingly doing it the easy way, on riding mowers.

Janet Shim, an analyst with Santa Monica, California-based industry research publisher IBISWorld Inc., forecasts sales of riding mowers will be up 9.8 percent to $896.6 million in 2010.

She recently tripped across this little noticed trend while researching home improvement stores, such as The Home Depot and Lowe's.

She expects this retail group, overall, to post a 2.3 percent decline in sales for 2010. But one bright spot has been riding lawn mowers.

"People have been viewing riding mowers as an investment," Shim explained. "It adds curb appeal to their homes. It's an easy way to increase home values."

Indeed. Nothing says "I'm not making my mortgage payments anymore" like an overgrown lawn. The bank-owned home down the street can get away with it, but not you.

Shim speculates many Americans have gotten rid of their gardeners, landscapers and lawn servicers amid the sluggish economic recovery.

But they soon find out that mowing themselves is hard work. So they run to a home improvement store and plop down anywhere from $700 to $5,500 or more for a new riding mower.

Sales of push mowers, or walk-behind mowers, meanwhile, remain on the decline, Shim said.

"Baby boomers are driving this trend," Shim said. "They are seeking comfort while they mow the lawn."

Aging Baby Boomers are caught between distinct generations: Their parents, who once had to cut lawns with motor-less push mowers; and their children, who do not even know what a lawn mower is because operating one has yet to be effectively simulated by a popular video game.

Meantime, the grass keeps growing, and someone has to cut it.

Marketers learned long ago that Baby Boomers will do anything if it somehow can be considered cool or artsy.

Riding mower maker John Deere leveraged this strategy perfectly in an advertising campaign during the March Madness college basketball season this year. It was dubbed "What will you create?"

The campaign featured South Carolinian Pearl Fryar who turned his lawn into a world renowned topiary garden by logging 1,200 hours on his John Deere lawn tractor.

Then there was former executive Larry Carlson of Bridgehampton, N.Y., who turned a five-acre potato field into "a work of art, complete with beautiful rustic gardens and a labyrinth."

Carlson looked like a guy who could afford to hire a landscaper, but he was doing it himself for his love of the art, you see.

The message: Time to get back in touch with the earth. Get yourself a cushy riding mower and cruise the rolling greens of your gated suburban spreads - if you haven't lost them to foreclosure, that is.

"Lawns are a status symbol," Shim said. "People judge your wealth or status by your lawn."

And where else can a man be free - to text and drive, to rage and drive, to drink and drive - than on his own lawn?

Where else can a woman - barefoot, pregnant and mowing the lawn - find more glamour and sophistication than on a Husqvarna?

There's nothing more invigorating than revving a Briggs and Stratton engine, buzzing the open space of your own backyard, smelling the fresh-cut grass, wind in your hair, sun on your back, whirling blades beneath your feet. The nation's unemployment rate be damned.

In a sluggish economic recovery like this, this could be the closest many of us will come to owning a yacht.