By Steve Edgerton
The turfgrass found in lawns, parks, and schoolyards represents the single largest irrigated crop in the U.S. Across the country, turf guzzles up 34 billion liters (nine billion gallons) of water per day, demanding 31 million kilograms (70 million pounds) of pesticides and 757 million liters (200 gallons) of gasoline annually.
Edible landscaping represents a different take on how to design and interact with yards and urban green spaces. With an emphasis on native perennials and food-producing plants, edible landscapes can be a great way to create green space and provide healthy, fresh food.
Replacing just a fraction of traditional lawn with edible landscapes designed around locally appropriate plants would have numerous benefits. Edible landscapes often require little or no additional irrigation or fertilizer, can increase food production potential in cities, and can be a boon to pollinators and ecological diversity. To celebrate and explore these benefits, Food Tank is featuring 15 organizations from around the world working to create edible landscapes.
1. Backyard Abundance
Backyard Abundance is a non-profit based in Johnson County, Iowa, focusing on both the design and educational aspect of edible landscaping. Founded in 2006, Backyard Abundance prioritizes the importance of residents taking a role in the transformations of landscapes as a way to find harmony with the natural world, connect with the elements of food production, and to feel empowered by the fact that individual decisions and actions can positively influence seemingly overwhelming environmental problems.
2. Ecologia Design
Michael Judd founded Ecologia Design following years of experience implementing whole systems design and functional landscapes in Mexico and Nicaragua, in addition to studying modern landscape design principles at the New York Botanical Garden. Ecologia represents a melding of aesthetics and functionality, designing beautiful landscapes with an emphasis on food production and working in line with local cultures and ecologies.
3. Edible Estates
Edible Estates is an initiative that began in Salinas, Kansas in 2006. Its goal is to create "prototype" gardens in cities around the world, with 16 already complete. Designed with its specific bioregion in mind, each garden takes into account local geography, culture, history, and the current needs of the communities. The emphasis is on productive, edible landscapes, and each design involves partnerships with local art institutions and horticultural or community gardening groups. Edible Estates strives to inspire others to look at underutilized or misappropriated green spaces in a new light, highlighting new contexts for food production and connections to the natural environment.
4. Edible Landscapes London
Edible Landscapes London is a nonprofit that specializes in food forests; a production system that combines fruiting shrubs, trees, and herbs, with each plant playing a complementary role that contributes to the health of the whole system and maximizes productivity. They developed the first ever accredited forest gardening course in the UK, and are a leading figure in creating edible, biodiverse landscapes in London.
5. Edible Landscape Project
Born from a community event in 2012, the Edible Landscape Project (ELP) sought to transform the Great Western Greenway in County Mayo, Ireland, into an edible landscape. The ELP is now a globally recognized social enterprise, focusing on forest gardening to contribute to ecosystem health and food security throughout Ireland. They are also active in mental health advocacy, and the positive role that growing food and connecting with nature can play in cultivating healthier mental landscapes.
Foodswell is a non-profit taking on the issue of food insecurity in Australia. Their research projects often emphasize the design and community development components of food access in remote and indigenous settlements throughout the country. Foodswell implements edible landscape designs along with other novel food growing strategies that are most appropriate for the specific community, with greater access to affordable, healthy food being their guiding directive.
7. Home Harvest LLC.
HomeHarvest creates edible landscapes in the Boston area. Ben Barkan founded Home Harvest, taking his experience on 35 organic farms around the world and applying it to the urban environment, where he aspires to create regenerative ecosystems and connect people more directly to their food. HomeHarvest also has a nonprofit branch, focusing primarily on planting fruit trees as a food source for communities in need, while also teaching residents how to maintain and utilize them.
8. Incredible Edible Network
Started by a group of citizens in the small town of Todmorden in Northern England, the Incredible Edible Network set out to inspire positive community change through food, by redesigning green space into edible landscapes, building community gardens, providing training, and supporting local commerce to strengthen local food systems and community resiliency. Their small start caught on in a big way, and the network now encompasses over 100 UK towns, along with towns in Canada and New Zealand.
9. Maya Mountain Research Farm
Taking its name from the Belize Mountains that it calls home, the Maya Mountain Research Farm is a non-governmental organization and working demonstration farm. The farm primarily focuses on cultivating a productive and biodiverse tropical food forest, replicating the ecological services of native forests to sequester carbon, conserve habitat, and fight against erosion, all while boosting local food security by incorporating more edible plants into the landscape.
10. Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden
Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden is a regional research center in Luang Prabang, Laos. The garden brings a snapshot of the region's impressive biodiversity into the heart of the country's largest and most popular city. They leverage this visibility by creating educational programs and acting as a tourist destination to promote the incorporation of edible and local plants into urban environments and to build awareness around local environmental preservation initiatives.
11. Philadelphia Orchard Project
Working in low-income neighborhoods often characterized as food deserts, the Philadelphia Orchard Project plants orchards filled with a variety of edible plants in vacant lots, community gardens, and school parks. They work in conjunction with organizations in the community to design and implement the orchards, and train residents to care for the plants, offering accessible and affordable options for fresh produce where there often are none.
12. Sadhana Forest
Sadhana Forest is a nonprofit operating in Haiti, India, and Kenya. Their projects involve the reforestation of severely eroded landscapes with food-bearing trees, building local food security while simultaneously remediating valuable land. Founded in 2003, Sadhana Forest has already planted hundreds of thousands of food-producing trees, with many more to come.
13. Sustainable Landscaping Initiative Vancouver
Sustainable Landscaping Initiative Vancouver is a nonprofit based in Vancouver, Canada. Their mandate is to drive an industry-wide greening in the world of landscaping. This would include a shift towards native plants, edible gardens, eliminating toxic chemicals, increasing water efficiencies, zero-emissions machinery, and whole systems design inspired by local ecosystems. They provide a variety of resources to assist landscaping organizations in a green transition and to become eligible for several eco-landscaping accreditation programs.
14. Trees That Feed Foundation
Created by Mike and Mary Mclaughlin and Paul Virtue in 2008, the Trees That Feed Foundation (TTFF) promotes the integration of tree crops into the landscapes of developing countries. The benefits of food-producing trees are many, and include reducing community dependence on fertilizer, water, and other inputs for food crops, while also sequestering carbon and strengthening local ecosystems. TTFF successfully runs projects in 11 countries throughout the Caribbean and Africa. Their programs include supplying local organizations with trees and providing training in tree care to ensure the long-term sustainability and benefits of their projects.
Wayward is a landscape, art and architecture firm from London, England. Many of their projects take a creative approach to implemented food growing into underutilized urban landscapes. Often repurposing salvaged plants and local building materials, their installations offer mind-bending and inspiring takes on incorporating edible spaces into contemporary art and architecture installations.
By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
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