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Sunday, November 12, 2023

Food forests transform lawns into lovely, beneficial landscapes

In recent years, backyard food forests moved from an anomaly to an emerging trend in urban environments. Local food security, soil regeneration, as well as nutrition and habit for urban wildlife are common catalysts for designing and planting backyard food forests.

In addition to backyards, small tracts of urban land contribute to the community ecosystem via food forests. Across the globe tiny food forests reside on former empty lots, school and corporate campuses, and common areas such as city parks.

Food Forest Basics*
According to Project Food Forest, a food forest, also called a forest garden, is a diverse planting of edible plants that attempts to mimic the ecosystems and patterns found in nature. Food forests are three-dimensional designs, with life extending in all directions – up, down, and out.

Ei Backyard Food Forest
photo courtesy of Holly Elmore Images
A food forest consists of numerous layers of plants ranging from fruit- or nut-bearing trees to shrubs to dense ground cover that protects the soil and prevents weeds. Perennials and self-seeding annuals are recommended to create a forest with minimal yearly maintenance. 

Plant diversity is important to nurturing a healthy, self-sustaining food forest. Selecting plants that attract beneficial insects who pollinate the forest and control pest insects creates an ecosystem based on nature's perfected principles.

Prior to planting, soil preparation is key to establishing a nurturing forest foundation where mycorrhizal fungi and other soil-ecosystem components flourish. In an urban environment, a common soil-preparation method places cardboard covered with a thick layer of mulch over the forest footprint; the soil preps for weeks to several months. Upon planting, compost and other natural amendments are added to the soil.

* The Food Forest Basics section is an excerpt from the Regeneration in ACTION (RiA) article, Urban Afforestation: Food Forests and Microforests, where the impact of food forests and microforests across the globe are introduced.

Ei Rewilding Urban Landscapes Pilots
When she returned to her hometown, Sarasota, Florida, after residing in Atlanta for four decades, Elemental Impact (Ei) Founder & CEO Holly Elmore dedicated her spacious approximately 8,500-square-foot yard to two rewilding pilots: 1> Front-Yard Native Landscape Pilot and 2> Backyard Permaculture Oriented Landscape (POL)Pilot.

The pilots' intention are to showcase how rewilding traditional lawns into lovely landscapes benefits human as well as wildlife inhabitants. Though many homeowner associations prohibit rewilding practices in front yards, there is often flexibility within backyards, especially if there is a fence that prevents public viewing.

Fortunately, Holly's home resides in a City of Sarasota neighborhood without a homeowner association. Thus, it flowed to implement front and backyard pilots.

The Holly Elmore Images (HEI) Ei Rewilding Urban Landscapes album documents the pilots' progress in a series of photo galleries.

Ei Backyard-Permaculture-Oriented Landscape (POL)Pilot
The backyard pilot follows POL practices with an emphasis on human-food-producing plants. A food waste-compost circle surrounded by banana trees is integral to the design. Thus, the general rule for the backyard landscape: any non-native plants must produce human food and/or provide direct soil-ecosystem benefit.

Backyard in its wild state
photo courtesy of Holly Elmore Images
While the front-yard landscape is strictly native plants and was installed over a two-day period, the backyard pilot is an evolutionary process. For nearly nine months, the backyard was permitted to return to its "wild state" with abundant plant diversity; a variety of happy insects frolicked in the knee-high grass infiltrated with flowering plants.

Beginning in early 2021, the backyard was slowly "tamed" with mulched paths, a banana compost circle, a row of native-blueberry bushes under the roof dripline, a pollinator garden, a food forest, and a raised herb-garden area with sun protection. Once the invasive carrotwood tree was removed, the south-side yard was opened to ample sunshine and prepped for a vegetable, herb, and edible-flower garden.

No herbicides or soil tilling were used in the taming process; Holly hand-weeded the majority of the areas before prepping for its destined purpose.

Ei Food Forest
In alignment with the permaculture focus, a food forest was planted in the center backyard within an area designated by paths. After several months of soil preparation, the initial trees were planted on June 15, 2022 along with native shrubs and sweet potato ground cover. Three months later, the young food forest proved resilient when it survived  Hurricane Ian's battering of the Florida Gulf Coast.

With ample shade from two magnificent live oaks, the food forest's growth is reasonably stunted due to limited sunlight. It is comfortable to work midday in the food forest during the summer heat due to the abundant shade.

Sweet potato harvest
photo courtesy of Holly Elmore Images
Fifteen-months post planting, the backyard food forest thrives with frequent, diverse harvests; the young trees gifted inaugural, though not abundant, Meyer lemons, Persian limes, Barbados cherries, surinam cherries, mulberries, and loquat fruit. Though healthy, the tangerine, Eureka lemon, and pomegranate trees did not produce fruit in their first year.

Sweet potato and African mint potatoes were bountiful ground covers. Edible flowers - marigolds, cosmos, butterfly pea, ground sorrel, and borage blossoms - were used fresh as garnish for food-styling and dehydrated for house made tea blends; the lobster flower and moringa leaves and cranberry hibiscus were also dehydrated for tea and other culinary accents.

In anticipation of a 30-person food tour, the peripheral backyard gardens were cleansed of Spanish nettles and other plants in unchosen places (aka weeds!) Growth around the paths was trimmed or pulled and the paths were refreshed with mulch. The HEI 2023 Backyard Permaculture Pilot Restoration album includes before and after images to showcase the impressive restoration.

Food Forest Tours
As part of their 2023 Eat Local Week (ELW) festivities, Transition Sarasota hosted dual for-pay food forest tours on October 18. As the curator of the Ei Rewilding Urban Landscapes Pilots and a food forest at his parents' home, Zach Zildjian of ZZ Design Services spearheaded the tours. One of the most popular ELW events, the food tours were oversold!

Zildjian Food Forest
Soil preparation on the Zildjian Food Forest (ZFF) started in February 2022 followed by initial planting in April 2022. Though only several months older, the (ZFF) is significantly more mature due to daily direct sunlight.

Zach hosting ZFF Tour
photo courtesy of Erin Saba
As prominent caterers known for their locally sourced organic food, the Zildjians planted unique and hard-to-source produce in the ZFF for utilization in their business. Additionally, decorative greenery and flowers grow to accentuate their delicious cuisine and buffet tables.

The ZFF was first on the tour itinerary and attendees enjoyed lovely refreshments before heading over to the Ei Food Forest.

Ei Food Forest
As the Ei Food Forest was second on the tour itinerary, the attendees were happy to stay past the stated end time. Attendees were greeted with Holly's house-butterfly pea white tea along with apple-cinnamon cakes; Zach hand harvested the apples on a recent trip to North Carolina.

Following Holly's background and overview dialogue, Zach took the group through the food forest while explaining the design, planting, and maintenance protocol. Attendees asked a multitude of questions and chimed in with their own experiences.

Many of the attendees accepted Holly's offer to gift second- or-third-generation seedlings as well as various plant clippings.

As anticipated, the formal ELW tours spurned a deluge in informal and formal Ei Food Forest tours.

With the Ei Rewilding Urban Landscapes Pilots closing in on two-year anniversaries, the pilots reached a maturity level where tours are excellent vehicles to showcase their intentions; the pilots showcase how rewilding traditional lawns into lovely landscapes benefits human as well as wildlife inhabitants


Tax-deductible donations in any amount are greatly appreciated to support Ei's important work. 


About Elemental Impact:
Elemental Impact (Ei) is a 501(c)3 non-profit founded in 2010 as the home to the Zero Waste Zones, the forerunner in the nation for the commercial collection of food waste for compost. In June 2017, Ei announced the Era of Recycling Refinement was Mission Accomplished and entered the Era of Regeneration. Current focus areas include Nature PrevailsSoil Health | Regenerative Agriculture, and Water Use | Toxicity.

The Regeneration in ACTION Magazine articles, From Organic Certification to Regenerative Agriculture to Rewilding Landscapes: an evolution towards soil integrity and SOIL & WATER: the foundation of life, published to explain and substantiate the importance of Ei’s rewilding urban landscapes work within the Nature Prevails focus area.

The Holly Elmore Images Rewilding Urban Landscapes-album folder documents two active pilots: the Native-Plant Landscape Pilot and the Backyard Permaculture-Oriented Pilot.

To work with industry leaders to create best regenerative operating practices where the entire value-chain benefits, including corporate bottom lines, communities, and the environment. Through education and collaboration, establish best practices as standard practices.

Ei’s tagline – Regeneration in ACTION – is the foundation for Ei endeavors.

The following mantra is at the core of Ei work:

Ei is a creator, an incubator.
Ei determines what could be done that is not being done and gets it done.
Ei brings the possible out of impossible.
Ei identifies pioneers and creates heroes.

For additional information, contact Holly Elmore at 404-510-9336 |

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