Image Source: The Permaculture Project
Landscape architecture is becoming increasingly focused on urban gardens and green spaces to help mitigate the effects of pollution in cities, a trend that could expand to designing food forests to feed growing urban populations.
Australia has an expansive area of land, much of which is unused and, some say, unusable.
That did not stop permaculturist Geoff Lawton from devising a simple design and methodology through which degraded land could be turned into a food forest. He traveled to Jordan, the lowest place on earth, with salty desert soil and turned it into a productive food forest.
This, of course, raises questions as to whether Australia should be devoting some of its real estate to food forests for its own population rather than continuing to import on a large scale. It also raises the issue of how much food the forest would generate and whether the output of produce would be enough to offset the real estate cost.
“You can fix all the world’s problems in a garden. You can solve all your pollution and all your supply line needs in a garden, yet people don’t know this,” Lawson says.
Food forests would herald a return to an agropolis lifestyle, providing food security while lowering food prices, minimising the distance food travels and reducing the carbon footprint produced.
A new project in Seattle, Washington has shown food forests can be created on a large scale. In a seven-acre public park in the neighbourhood of Beacon Hill, the nation’s first food forest is set to go ahead. The plot of land will be planted with hundreds of different edibles, all available for public consumption.
An entire food forest on public land takes urban agriculture to a whole new level. It is grounded in the concept of permaculture, meaning the edible garden will be self-sustaining like a wild forest.
Permaculture is still a relatively new movement, based around sustainable land use, which involves working with nature to produce productive, smart, resilient, integrated design that maximises space and minimises waste.
The City of Calgary in Canada offers yet another example of successful food forests. Calgary resident Rob Avis saw a video of Lawton’s journey to Jordan and says the video provided an epiphany.
Soon after, Avis turned his back yard into a food forest to feed his family and friends. He planted a highly engineered, multi-layered forest of food which functions as a wild forest and virtually takes care of itself.
“We are surrounded by land that could potentially grow good, healthy food for people who don’t have enough,” he says.
Avis suggests that while we people to complain about urban sprawl, they ignore the distances food must travel from production to plate.
“We’ve got all this land,” he says. “Someday, we can turn this massive sprawl into the farms of the future.”
The Seattle food forest project is using land once devoted to a public park, most likely covered in grass. Avis sees grass and backyard lawns as a waste of useful production space.
“A system like lawn or grass perpetuates the concept of food scarcity,” he says.
He adds that close to 40 million acres of land in the US are planted with grass each year and estimates that Canada’s rate per capita is roughly the same. His calculations show that 40 million acres of grass is enough space to grow food for 300 million people to maintain a 2,000 calorie diet for two years on one crop.
While some may be concerned over how safe the food was if it was grown in a polluted urban environment, it would likely be healthy and safe to eat with a good wash before consumption.
The biggest safety concern with urban gardening is often the soil itself, not what’s in the air. Obviously, soil testing would need to be conducted on the plots of land destined to urban become food forests.
There is no doubt that urban agriculture and landscape architecture are transforming our cities, little by little. Perhaps in the near future, veggie shopping will be replaced with a walk through the urban food forest to pick up dinner vegetables.
As a nation, Australia could better utilise land to produce home-grown food while benefiting from mitigation of environmental pollutants in the process.