Although money does not grow on trees, food, one of the number uses of money, does. This tidbit of truth, when capitalized upon to create abundant and rich gardens that harness sustainable and natural living cycles creates what is known as a food forest. Food forests maximize all the properties of gardens to their fullest potential so that every part of the garden, from the smallest and lowest shrubs to the fruit trees, is integrated into a living system with mass food, wild life space, and beauty. The utility of the food forest is doubles against the negative value of lawn spaces, an environmental nightmare that have immense cost both in resources and time. By creating and using food forests, there is potential to radically alter American life and the threats of food insecurity so that it is more luxurious, sustainable, and productive.
The space and time for Food Forests is ripe. Food Forests can be grown practically anywhere and that means they are ample candidates for using American yard space. Unfortunately, the vast majority of American yards are infested with an all-together unsuspected and oppressive weed: lawns. Lawns, the green, short, and grassy, feature of American yards, are actually quite a hazard to the environment due to the enormous pollution and waste they generate. Furthermore, they are enormously expensive.
Every weekend, 54 Million Americans will mow their lawns consuming more than 800 million gallons in gasoline each year thereby producing innumerable air pollutants (PPM). Garden equipment is particularly bad for polluting elements since they were by and large unregulated by the EPA for their emissions until the beginning of the new millennium (PPM). Since there is more than 40.5 million acres being mowed regularly, these emissions are expected to make up about 5% of the nation’s air pollution (Roswell). A single new gas powered lawn mower is believed by the Environmental Protection Agency to output as many as pollutants into the air as do 11 new cars will being driven for the same period of time. To make matters worse, lawns are known to spill more oil each year in their refueling process than the Exxon Valdez oil spill did in the Gulf of Alaska (PPM). This fuel, then is either leaked into underground water stores where they can pollute drinking aquifers or it is evaporated into the air as a volatile organic compound that will further perpetuate o-zone problems.
The other half of the resource equation that is seriously detrimental to the environment are the use of synthetic fertilizers. According to Erica Roswell, there are 3 million tons of nitrogen fertilizers spread annually on the American lawn. There also are about 30 thousand tons of pesticide sprayed on lawns with an annual national budget reaching $2.2 Billion (Roswell 1).
From the 32 Pesticides that are most commonly used by a Major Lawn Service Company, 13% were known or suspected to contain endocrine disrupters, 22% were known or suspected to have reproductive toxins, 53% were found to contain possible carcinogens, 41% of the fertilizers were known to contain ingredients that were banned or restricted in other countries, and a whopping 100% had disruptive tendencies for the environment’s water supplies, aquatic organisms, and non-targeted insects (Roswell 1). It is estimated that roughly 7 million birds are killed each year by lawn-care pesticides and even that collapse of the honey bees are linked to the pesticide use (Vritterbush). Furthermore, as much as 30% of the water used in the U.S. goes directly to watering lawns and much of the phosphorous run off from watering and fertilizing systems contribute to algae blooms that drain oxygen from lakes and asphyxiating fish (Vritterbush).
In all, the average American lawn takes up to about 70 to 150 hours a year to maintain their yard and that simply is just such a waste because there is so much potential there for ulterior cultivation (Ingraham, Vritterbush). NASA estimates from their satellite imaging that lawns occupy 1.9 percent of continental United States thus making lawns the single largest irrigated crop in the whole country (Ingraham). Most surprising of all however is the number of Americans who are injured yearly by lawn equipment. According to statistical reports, 7,500 American are hurt or injured by lawn mowers which is roughly the same number as injuries caused by firearms (Vritterbush). Most severe of all though is the finding that 30% of injuries caused an amputation of some kind (Vritterbush). Hence, there is a certain need to reform the nation’s yard space into a cleaner, simpler, and more productive alternative.
Food forests most certainly are that opportunity. Food forests create ecosystems based upon sustainable cycles of plant lives so that trees, nuts, herbs, fungi, and buses all work together to help harvest a helpful yield unto humans (Food Forests). Just like a real forest, the food forests need no help from human beings to grow and thrive. The expense and detriment of mowing, spraying, digging, weeding, and all other forms of fertilizer and herbicides can be completely done away with in a properly set up forest. Thus the only real need for the food forests is their start up.
The basis for Food Forests is the model shown by Mother Nature herself in her forests. Forests are nature’s most successful processes. 50 to 90 percent of all terrestrial and land-living biodiversity are to be found in forests thus accounting for 10 to 50 million species across the planet (Eliades). They also add huge amounts of resources to the planet including Oxygen production, wood harvesting, and of course food! The forest is so productive thanks to the incredible degree of diversity that they accommodate.
In all, a forest garden has about seven layers of workable plant life. These, ranging from smallest to tallest, include soil surfaces, built from ground cover and cover crops, Rhizophere, Herbaceous Layer, Shrub Layers, composed of currants and berries, low tree layers, such as Dwarf Fruit Trees, Canopy Trees, such as large fruit and nut trees, and finally, the vertical layers built by climbers and vines (Eliades). The interlay of these plants serves to create a unique undergrowth layer wherein plants work in mutual harmony to make thriving layers of soil. This interlay of soil layers creates a proxy soil layer that simulates the natural way that forest’s own floors grow in the wild (Food Forests). Thus weeds are prevented from growing by the full interlay of many plants which interpenetrate both above and below ground. Furthermore, the density of the vegetation serves to catch water which otherwise would trickle through the soil (Eliades). The water is especially well collected by the use of root crops which are composed of vegetation such as potatoes, ginger, yacon, and carrots, and mulches (Eliades). While the lower half of the Food Forest may seem like its where all the action is, the upper part of the garden can be quite prolifically dynamic as well. For instance, the use of vertical climbers, such as grapes, climbing beans, berries, passion fruits, climbing peas, and chokos helps to flush out the open space often seen in gardens and orchards with an additional level of life which attracts wild life, grabs the usually missed rays of the sun, and brings in higher yields of food (Eliades).
Because the mix of the plants is so critical, food forests will often have more than just food producing vegetation. Indeed some plants will serve as a nitrogen fixer or possibly as a wild life repellent (Eliades). In this fashion, Food Forests eliminate the costly and dangerous use of herbicides and pesticides that cull the organic organisms and principles that all life is sustained upon. Actually, one the foundational principles of life is strength in numbers and it is precisely this attribute which both lawns and monoculture agriculture are missing which is having a key role in top-soil loss one of the Earth’s foremost dangers (Eliades). Thus, companion planting is a foremost strategy in Food Forests which entails the mixing and matching of plants so that each benefits from their symbiosis with their partner plants. For instance, nitrogen fixers, like bean plants, will be placed with plants that depend heavily on them to achieve their best growth.
Food producing plants often depend on other sorts of organisms to help them reach their peak potential. Animals, insects, and birds frequently play a key role in sustaining the health cycle of many plants and thus should be sought after within food forests. A Permaculture Design Course Handbook teaches that Food Forests should try to integrate as many beneficial animals and insects as possible. Bees are especially well appreciated in the Food Forest since they are one of the main pollinators for the world. One factoid of relevancy is that “if the bee disappears from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than four years to live” (A Permaculture Design). Hence, the addition of bee-hives for honey and pollination is a wise and common element that a thriving food forests might expected to have.
More than mere fancy or speculation, Food Forests have been strategically developed the world over with great success. Here, a brief report on some of the Food Forests in action are discussed to reiterate the beauty and utility of these lovely organic ecosystems. Seattle’s Food Forest is an especially note-worthy creation which is open to the entire community. Beacon Food Forest’s is the nation’s largest forgeable space with a wide arrange of vegetation ranging from berry bushes, apple trees, herbs, and vegetables, and plums which stretch from ground floor to the highest manageable heights (Schiller). Beacon Food Forest is inside the city limits and is the work of a community group project which has planted nearly 40 trees so far (Schiller). The forest includes a teaching space, conventional community gardening plots, recreational areas, and is home to many ethical harvesting classes. From Beacon, a whole lot of food is expected to be grown and it is believed that with this food, the city will increase citizen’s opportunity for urban exploration, city cleanliness, and reconnection with nature (Schiller). With Seattle’s Beacon Food Forest as the nation’s model, many other cities and states can follow the pattern established by this city and begin the reconstruction of the yard space that has been so costly.
One country whose Food Forestry is beyond even Seattle’s is Cuba. Cuba, having been economically isolated for decades, has built within itself a peaceful and thriving collection of food forests where food and fruit grows prolifically and fully. Indeed, according to those who visit the country, the people make as much food with the little space that they have so that they can sell their harvests at local co-ops (Loca Onga). The collection of naturally grown foods has been monumentally helpful in fortifying the Cuban infrastructure and increasing the beauty of the land and people. Perhaps Cuba will be able to share their techniques and attitudes someday with Americans.
Perhaps the only detrimental component to these food forests is the enormity of free time these food forests may create when the replace the all-consuming and seemingly neurotic upkeep of the American lawn. Hopefully, these ecosystem constructions will be thrilling enough with all their fantastic productions and sustenance for all to be more than satisfied with the change. To begin them is a slight challenge however, the outcome, enduring, bountiful, and beauty landscapes seem to make them more than worth the financial, mental, and physical investment.
Loca Onga. Cuban Agriculture. Permadubdream, 2012. Web. June, 11, 2016. https://permadubdream.wordpress.com/tag/cuban-food-forest/.
Crouch, Doug. Animal Systems. A Permaculture Design Course Handbook.
Eliades, Angelo. Why Food Forests? Permaculturenews.org, 2011. Web. June, 10, 2016. http://permaculturenews.org/2011/10/21/why-food-forests/.
A Permaculture Design Course Handbook. Treeyopermacultureedu.Wordpress, 2016. Web. June, 11, 2016.
The Forest Garden: A Seven Level Beneficial Guild. Appropedia.org. Web, 2015.. June 10, 2016. http://www.appropedia.org/Food_forests
Ingraham, Christopher. Lawns are a soul-crushing time suck and most of us would be better off without them. Chicago Tribune, 2015. Web. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-stop-mowing-your-lawn-20150805-story.html.
PPM. Cleaner Air: Gas Mower Pollution Facts. People Powered Machines, 2008. Web. https://peoplepoweredmachines.wordpress.com/2008/12/16/america-spends-more-money-on-lawn-care-than-foreign-aid-why-we-need-less-lawn/.
Roswell, Erica. Statistically Speaking: Lawns by the Numbers. The Green Grok, 2008. Web, 2016. http://blogs.nicholas.duke.edu/thegreengrok/lawns_stats/
Vritterbush, Americans spend More Money on Lawn Care than Foreign Aid: Why We Need Less Lawn. People Powered Machines, 2008, Web. June, 10, 2016. https://peoplepoweredmachines.wordpress.com/2008/12/16/america-spends-more-money-on-lawn-care-than-foreign-aid-why-we-need-less-lawn/.