Professionally designed and maintained foodscapes are my hope for the future of American landscapes. As the global population rises locally cultivated food systems will be developed to help reduce the food miles crisis. The sun, soil and irrigation systems of common landscaped spaces such as the suburban developments, corporate campuses, retirement homes and public schools can be harnessed to produce supplemental affordable food for communities. Raising awareness, appreciation and understanding of landscaped food systems will help facilitate a change in the design and management of public green spaces. Someday the landscape industry will be linked to diversified, sustainable, ecologically focused food production.
I began my first foodscape ten years ago when I purchased a home in the suburbs of Raleigh, NC. The truth is I couldn’t afford lumber to build raised beds and fill them with yards of purchased compost. I was a single woman earning my living as a plant propagator and money was really tight! Determined to grow food, I used the foundation landscape that already existed to cultivate seasonal, edible plants. What I discovered was a harmonious marriage of aesthetic and practical qualities. I was hooked on growing food within finely designed spaces and ambitious to meet the criteria of HOA landscape committees. Now, a decade later, every landscape represents the possibility of food production.
Foodscaping isn’t about living off the grid: rather it is the practical integration of edibles in an existing ornamental landscape. It is the opposite of a farm, utilizing tiny spaces within each landscape to produce percentages of food. Organic growing techniques are combined with traditional maintenance practices of mulching and edging to keep the space looking clean and tidy. Beds are designed in a way to best utilize the natural resources of water flow and light while seasonal crops are rotated to enhance the ornamentals. A bio-diverse range of plants are selected to increase populations of beneficial pollinators and wildlife. Foodscapes are living ecosystems that meet the aesthetic needs of the general population while serving a greater purpose for the environment and the kitchen.
The essence of a foodscape comes from the supplemental produce that engages people in a unique capacity: a ripe tomato hanging within a Limelight hydrangea, peppers woven within pink muhly grass, amber waves of grain sweeping as a purposeful groundcover. These unexpected combinations serve to enhance the experience of the passerby while raising awareness of how food grows. Food crops empower people on many levels. From plant recognition to raising awareness of health through consumption, foodscapes offer an opportunity to expand the role horticulture plays in society.
Public schools may be one of the best areas to develop this model. By combining the value of healthy eating and the science of horticulture we can inspire the next generation in a meaningful way. The Bullock Garden project in Glassboro, NJ is a great example of how a horticulture initiative can positively influence society by creating a foodscaped teaching garden.
Through a national collaboration known as #SustainableHeroes, headed up by celebrity landscaper and HGTV host Ahmed Hassan, we “school crashed” the property of Bullock Elementary. An unused courtyard was transformed into a bountiful classroom in one weekend. It was a career changing experience for me in many ways. The excitement of the teachers, administrators and other volunteers filled me with the sense that horticultural knowledge is valuable and necessary. Hearing 500 children chant “Garden! Garden! Garden!” during a pep rally brought tears to my eyes and a sense of meaning I had never experienced before.
Thanks to the generosity of donors like Peace Tree Farms and Organic Mechanics Soil this schoolyard garden is plentiful in its healthy production of fruits and vegetables. The school has partnered with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s Jersey Fresh program to raise and serve Jersey Fresh produce in the cafeteria. Chef Simon harvests from the garden for a weekly tasting menu to encourage students to eat more vegetables.
The NJ Agricultural Society trained teachers and provides free courses on how to incorporate garden lessons across the curriculum. Teachers use the garden as a space for instructing writing and reading in addition to teaching growing, harvesting and culinary skills. Under the supervision of teachers and FoodCorps representative Laura Pennington classes have a rotating schedule in the garden. The school plans to continue developing a garden classroom/STEM lab this year as an interactive, instructional learning hub.
Horticulture education belongs in every school system. Students will eat and learn from what they grow! Children relish time spent in a garden and edible classrooms are an excellent way to connect health, wellness and nutrition to horticulture. The green industry has an incredible opportunity to team up with programs like Growing Minds to help train individuals to design and establish school foodscapes by integrating gardening into state and national curriculum.
Growing food has empowered me to set my hopes high and envision a future where landscape maintenance professionals play a role in local organic food production. From public schools to the sprawling suburbs, the sun, soil and irrigation systems are waiting to be harnessed for the greater good of health, wellness, community and environment.