Edible Landscapes – from England to New England

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Imagine walking down the street in your hometown and passing blueberry bushes full of berries for you to pick along the way (sharing them with the birds of course).  Or nut trees in the public park with a sign saying “please gather and share these nuts.”  Or perhaps an edible groundcover like Alpine strawberry, wintergreen, sage, mint, oregano, chamomile or thyme around public buildings?

Crazy, you say?

Maybe – but this is what is happening in Todmorden, a small town in the north of England, and being planned for the University of Massachusetts campus in Amherst, Massachusetts USA.  There is unused or underutilized public and private land in many places that could be growing food.  Please enjoy the story of how this crazy idea sprouted in Todmorden!

As Pam Warhurst says in the video, this is the beginning of a revolution.  Food provides a unifying language that everyone speaks.  Community resilience can grow and community spirit can explode when a simple idea like growing food in public spaces gets momentum.  Communities around the world are copying Todmorden become more food self-sufficient by replacing unused grassy areas with beautiful and productive food plants.

A similar proposal was developed by students at the University of Massachusetts to create an “edible campus.”  UMass students have a history of turning grass into food gardens. The UMass Permaculture Program was recognized by the White House as a Campus Champion of Change.  The following video presents the work of the UMass students who transformed unproductive space to a vibrant community garden.

Students at UMass have imagined a place where the ecologically simple lawns are replaced by diverse ecosystems offering both beauty and food!

FROM ecological simplicity…

TO ecological diversity…

In addition to planting more gardens in underutilized space on campus, the UMass Permaculture Program and the Stockbridge School of Agriculture will partner with the local school system to plant fruit trees and develop vegetable gardens with the kids.

We can all do more to grow food in public spaces.  According to a recent news story “Local government officials from Baltimore, Maryland, to Bainbridge Island, Washington are plowing under the ubiquitous hydrangeas, petunias, daylilies, and turf grass around public buildings, and planting fruits and vegetables instead — as well as in underutilized spaces in our parks, plazas, street medians, and even parking lots.”  Seattle created the nation’s first public food forest!

Of course, most towns won’t find leadership for this sort of effort from local government.  Citizens can take action on their own however.  A group of young people in Northampton, Massachusetts have launched a campaign called “Help Yourself“.  Their plan is to plant “ignored, abused, and out of mind places, like vacant lots, bike paths, road medians, and lawns of businesses and householdswith edible plants.  They are creating “free food in public spaces”, such as:

  • A community herb garden with informative signs…
  • Free to use – and harvest – raised beds around town...
  • Abundant fruit and nut trees that shower future generations with real wealth…
  • Peas, grapes, and kiwis climbing along fences and railings…
  • Beautiful flowers that attract pollinating insects and reduce pests!

A recent Kickstarter campaign raised $2500 in just a few weeks to begin planting fruit trees along the town bike path and other public spaces.  There are lots of possibilities for creating edible landscapes.  If you are doing a project along these lines, please let us know by posting to the comments box below.

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I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends.  And for more ideas, videos and challenges along these lines, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   Go here for more of my World.edu posts.  To get a college degree related to this work, see: UMass Sustainable Food and Farming.