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.