June 15th, 2024

Foodscaping our yards

By Submitted Article on April 27, 2020.

Submitted by the Southern Alberta Group for the Environment

As we journey through these difficult times, SAGE would like to thank doctors, nurses, pharmacists, grocery, retail, transit and all essential service people helping us cope with COVID-19. Your efforts are remarkable and very much appreciated. Previously, in trying times we coped by growing our own food, enabling resilience in our shared environment. From Victory Gardens to Food Forests, may the spirit endure.

A “foodscape” is a designed, site-specific and high-yielding plant system for supporting human needs. A well-designed food forest provides nutritious food and medicinal plants while saving its steward money. Foodscapes also provide beautiful urban spaces, enrich and protect the environment, build community and help pollinators. Environmental pressures negatively impacting pollinators include pesticide use, climate change and habitat loss. Among the most affected are bees, which are responsible for pollinating one-third of the food we eat. If we want to be sure of healthy crops, pollinators need as much help as we can give.

The most important factor in growing healthy food is healthy soil. A vigorous soil ecosystem is comprised of countless microorganisms, principally bacteria and fungi, that have developed complex symbiotic relationships to help them metabolize nutrients from the soil and resist disease. Bacteria, in general, feed on organic material high in nitrogen like fresh grass and vegetable scraps, while fungi prefer material high in carbon like dried leaves and the woody parts of plants. These are the “green” and “brown” components found in good compost. Incidentally, making compost at home is an easy way to use your food scraps instead of sending them to the landfill, where they produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

There are many designs for a foodscape, but all aim to mimic a typical forest with its multiple levels and species. Mirroring the tallest trees in a forest are a variety of fruit-bearing trees. Bushes like chokecherries, currants and even grapes can comprise the next level. Then, herbaceous perennials such as comfrey and anise hyssop are often planted for medicinal use or to attract pollinators. The root and ground cover layers are comprised of soil stabilizing and conditioning plants including rhubarb, strawberries, carrots, garlic, spinach, rosemary and mint.

Most of the plants in a foodscape are perennials, as the goal is for the food forest to recur annually with minimal labour, while providing food and medicine for people, animal habitat and the ambiance of abundance and health. All of the living structures in a food forest are comprised of carbon removed from the atmosphere and sequestered in the soil, no longer contributing to the warming of the planet. The biomass in healthy soil is a massive carbon sink.

In choosing plants to foodscape your yard in Lethbridge, consider drought-tolerant species resistant to pests and diseases prevalent here. Other practical factors in the choice of plants include length of the growing season, tolerance for shade, nitrogen fixation and soil stabilization.

Foodscapes could become much more common in Lethbridge. Because each site is different and unique, you may want to seek information and planning advice from sources such as LethbridgeSustainableLiving.ca, UrbanFarmSchool.ca and GenerateDesign.ca.

This is an opportunity to think differently about our yards and shared spaces. We can grow food and reap the rewards of a healthy body, environment – and pocketbook.

Please visit sage-environment.org for more information.

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