(UR) If one man can transform a barren sandbar to a lush forest single-handedly, we can certainly grow our own food forests. With acres of land sitting idle in urban landscapes, and mega-mansion lawns sprawling without an edible plant in site, it’s time for a revolution of sorts — but it doesn’t require the work of thousands of irate activists to get such an insurgency against the corporate food war underway.
More than 30 years ago, a teenager began burying seeds along a barren sandbar near his birthplace in northern India with the intent to grow a refuge for wildlife. Jadav “Molai” Payeng later moved to the site so he could create an entirely new ecosystem which now amounts to 1,360 acres of jungle — imagine what we could do with a few acres?
We too can leave an indelible mark on the landscape, and we kind of owe it to the planet to recreate a rich, bio-diverse topography after the havoc we’ve wrecked. Instead of mowing the lawn every weekend, and dousing it with carcinogenic weedkillers, a practice which Americans spend more than $26 billion dollars per year on, what if we could harvest apples and peaches from a small orchard we started just years prior, or pick a handful of fresh herbs growing from a permaculture garden that practically cares for itself?
In many places, lawns are also insatiable for water. According to the Los Angeles Municipal Water District, the average lawn requires the equivalent of 84 inches of rain per year. Obviously, California hasn’t gotten that wet lately, and the agricultural industry — responsible for growing more than half the nation’s produce — is feeling the burn. The state had to start charging exorbitant fees to people who wanted to keep their lawns green.
We could all guerrilla plant areas that are underutilized already, illicitly planting areas that beg for organic food sources, following the lead of Ron Finley, who has planted in traffic medians, along curbs and in abandoned lots throughout Los Angeles, or the entire town of Todmorden, West Wilkshire, that has completely food-scaped its entire city. You can find lettuce, spring onions, kale, and edible flowers even at the local police station, along odd stretches of road, and just about anywhere they can find the people and resources to plant. They currently have over 70 beds of flowers and food growing throughout their town. It’s the first town in England to be entirely food self-sufficient.
We could also start with land that we own or have legal access to. There is an estimated total of 163,812 square kilometers, or more than 63,000 square miles, of lawn in America — about the size of Texas — on which we could plant our own food forests.
The following steps should help you get started:
End the useless lawn — some permaculturists say you can just place cardboard over an existing lawn, and cover it with ample organic soil to start your own food forest, but other say that weeds are too persistent if you don’t get rid of the grass the old fashioned way, by shoveling it up. Either way, the grass has to go. Once the grass is gone, level the land or create ‘swales’ to collect rainwater so you are ready to start growing organic food for yourself, your family, and your neighbors.
Plant a diversity of crops — One of the ways to make a food forest harvestable year-round, and reduce the work it takes to maintain it in the long term, is to plant as many diverse crops as possible. As Mother Earth News explains:
“Rather than have just the main fruit tree crop, a food forest is designed to have an upper story (large fruit trees), and secondary upper-story (dwarf fruit trees) a shrub layer (berry bushes) an herb layer (leafy greens and veggies) and a ground cover layer (strawberries and low herbs). In this way, one creates a dynamic polyculture that has diverse crops in production. This makes sense if our intention is to grow for our own community.”
When one stage of the forest dies, it provides living mulch for the next stage of plants. This keeps your food forest healthy with organic matter year-round, and also allows you to harvest through all four seasons. Be sure to also plant beneficial flowers for pollinators and to attract insects that will help your plants, trees, and flowers fight unwanted pests and disease. This will vary somewhat depending on the area in which you live, but there are resources for determining what grows best in your growing zone.
Large trees should be planted first, and then large shrubs, followed by smaller and smaller plants. Be sure to use as much area as you have available to maximize food growth.
Conserve water — Planning a drip irrigation system from the start can save tons of water. You can also utilize water catchment from runoff, or consider installing a grey water system if your city allows it. Sprinkler systems waste water and don’t send it where it really needs to go. Watering just your plants will also discourage weed growth.
Mulch like crazy — To discourage water evaporation, weed growth, and to ensure your plants have lots of organic compost, mulch with at least several feet of wood chips, straw bale, or non-toxic shredded bark from fallen trees.
For inspiration, look to Molai’s 1,300-acre, one-man, jungle. What could you do with a few hundred square feet of lawn?
This article (Read This If You Want to Become a Food Revolutionary) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Christina Sarich and UndergroundReporter.org. If you spot a typo, please email the error and the name of the article to firstname.lastname@example.org. Image credit: Flickr/Foodista