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Sunday, January 14, 2024

Local Food Security: building a movement through yard gardens and food forests

During the COVID pandemic, flaws in the national and global food systems were evident with the plethora of empty grocery shelves caused by supply chain and other challenges. Often, local producers came to the rescue by providing healthy, nutritious produce to communities through neighborhood farmers' markets and consumer farm visits.

Recently planted garden
Photo credit: Holly Elmore Images
Additionally, there was a significant increase in home and urban gardening. A March 2022 University of Georgia (UGA) study, COVID-19 pandemic fueled massive growth in green industry, found about one out of every three people began gardening in 2020 because they were home more.

According to the study's lead author, Benjamin Campbell, UGA College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences, "Gardening not only gave people something to do, but it also gave them a little bit more happiness.” Food insecurity was a driver for many of those included in the study.

Historic Gardening Movements
Depleted soils, broken food systems, and supply-chain challenges contribute to food insecurity for rural and urban populations. Local food security is a a severe challenge for humanity.

According to the U.S. Department of Human and Health Services, in 2020, 13.8 million households were food insecure at some point during the year. The World Food Programme made a dire announcement:

2022: a year of unprecedented hunger

As many as 828 million people go to bed hungry every night. The number of those facing acute food insecurity has soared - from 135 million to 345 million - since 2019. A total of 49 million people in 49 countries are teetering on the edge of famine.

Image courtesy of Living Farm History
During the Great Depression (1929 - 1939,) local gardens provided a means of survival. According to the Gardens Role in Great Depression Research Paper, governments introduced relief gardening programs to combat emotional stress, poverty, and hunger. The relief gardens were also referred to as vacant-lot gardens, subsistence gardens, or welfare-garden plots.

In World War II (WWII,) the federal government called on citizens to plant victory gardens; nearly 20 million Americans answered the call in the name of patriotism. Victory gardens produced an estimated 9 - 10-million tons of vegetables, the equivalent of the commercial-agriculture-crop production destined to feed the troops: victory gardens made a tremendous difference and avoided food-shortage and hunger scenarios during the war.*

Thus, the U.S. has precedent on preventing food insecurity on a mass scale during the Great Depression and WWII via home and vacant-lot gardening. Challenge: both programs were strongly promoted and supported by the U.S. federal government. Without government support, communities, non-profits, and individuals must create a movement for U.S. residents to plant and nurture gardens, instead of lawns, at their homes.

* Facts provided by the Living History Farm, Farming in the 1940's, Victory Farms.
** Section is an excerpt from the Regeneration in ACTION (RiA) article, Water & Soil: the foundation of life

Modern-Day-Gardening Movement
Inspired by the relief gardens' and victory gardens' past successes and fueled by the food shortages during the COVID pandemic, a modern-day-gardening movement is underway. 

In 2021, Modern Farmer publisher Frank Giustra and Big Green Co-Founder Kimbal Musk announced the launch of the Million Gardens Movement (MGM,) a charitable food initiative; MGM aspires to give everyone the opportunity to grow their own food, whether it is on a windowsill or in a backyard, and to create a healthier, happier, more sustainable world.

Big Green and Modern Farmer started Million Gardens Movement to make it simple for anyone to give a family a garden,” says Musk. “Planting a seed is an act of hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Ei food forest
Photo credit: Holly Elmore Images

The Elemental Impact (Ei) Rewilding Urban Landscapes Pilots (EiPilots) support the modern-day-gardening movement and showcase how lawns may be replaced with vegetable gardens and food forests; the Ei Pilots are aesthetically pleasing as well as functional. Located in Ei Founder & CEO Holly Elmore's spacious front and backyards, the Ei Pilots are easily accessible for tours. 

The RiA article, Ei Rewilding Urban Landscapes Pilots, introduces the pilots while the article, Urban Afforestation: Food Forests and Microforests, showcases the global-food forest movement.

Tours are an excellent avenue to inspire neighbors and community residents to join the gardening movement. Individual tours were common from the onset of planting seeds, seedlings and saplings within the Ei Pilots.

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!

The RiA article, Food forests transform lawns into lovely, beneficial landscapes, features the ELW food forest tours.

Holly begins the Ei Food Forest tour in her backyard.
Photo credit: Ana Galeana
On January 7, 2023 the FB group 941 Natural Gardeners hosted an Ei Pilots tour focused on the backyard food forest and the vegetable, herb and edible-flower garden. Nearly 30 intrigued local residents attended the Sunday morning tour. Though Holly lead the tour, Zach was on site to answer in-depth and technical questions.

Beginning indoors due to the rain and chilly temperature, tour participants were welcomed with homemade sweet treats along with Holly's butterfly pea blossom-white-tea blend. While indoors, Holly gave the an introduction to Ei, the Ei Pilots, and the underdevelopment Ei Focus Area What We Eat Matters. 

As the rain subsided, the tour began with the Native-Plant-Landscape Pilot in the front yard; the pilot intention is to provide food and habitat for local, urban wildlife. Over two-years young, the Native-Plant-Landscape Pilot was designed by Pam Callender of Lifelines and installed on November 18 & 19, 2021. Holly explained that the impervious driveway was removed to enlarge the pilot area and aid with rainfall retention on the property.

Holly explains the evolution of the Ei Food Forest.
Photo credit: Ana Galeana
Once in the Backyard Permaculture Oriented Landscape (POL) Pilot. Holly explained how the backyard was permitted to grow wild for almost nine months. As she weeded the tall grass of sandspur plants, the yard guided Holly on the paths that eventually earmarked the food forest home. While still in the wild state, the invasive carrotwood tree was removed from the southside yard; once the large tree was removed, the area was perfect for the vegetable, herb, and edible-flower garden (garden.)

The POL Pilot general rule is any non-native plant must either produce human food and/or nourish the soil ecosystem.

After Holly hand weeded it, the designated food forest area was covered with cardboard and topped with mulch to prepare the soil for the trees and ground cover. On June 15, 2022, the food forest was installed under Zach's design and direction. An organic process, the food forest welcomes new plantings, ground cover, and trees on a sporadic basis.

Two of the groundcover crops - sweet potatoes and African mint potatoes - produce an abundant, tasty  harvest. The Meyer lemon, Persian lime, Surinam cherry, Barbados cherry, mulberry, and loquat trees bore fruit in their first year; though healthy, the tangerine, Eureka lemon, persimmon, pomegranate, and kaffir lime trees are yet to bear fruit. 

Harvested blossoms and house-made tea blend
Photo credit: Holly Elmore Images
On a regular basis, Holly harvests and dehydrates butterfly pea and sun hemp blossoms, lemongrass, moringa leaves, pennyroyal stems, and lobster flower leaves for house-made tea blends. Additionally, Holly uses lemongrass stalks and kaffir lime leaves for culinary dishes.

In late September, 2022, Holly along with Zach's crew planted over 500 seeds in preparation of the garden installation weeks later. 

... and then Hurricane Ian ravaged the Florida Gulf Coast mere days after planting the seeds. As they were moved indoors while preparing for the hurricane, the seeds were unharmed. Though Ian wreaked havoc on it, the food forest proved resilient and sustained minimal long-term damage.

Hurricane debris, mainly large branches and medium-sized tree trunks, were perfect for confining the garden's three main plots. In its second winter season, the garden thrives and produces an abundance of lettuces, vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers.

As the tour concluded, many participants eagerly accepted plant cuttings and seedlings from the food forest.

Beyond Food Security
Though a strong proponent of building local food security for humans and urban wildlife alike, the Ei  Pilot's primary focus is on replacing lawns and open space with native-plant and permaculture-oriented landscapes. 

Lawns are environmentally detrimental as they lack diversity, generally are non-native plants, and are often treated with the "cides"* and petro-chemical fertilizers. The previously referenced RiA article, Water & Soil: the foundation of life, explains the devastating impact of lawns on the environment and urban wildlife.

Ei celebrates that the Ei Rewilding Urban Landscape Pilots create a tremendous added-value benefit by supporting the modern-day-gardening movement via building local food security with yard gardens and food forests.

* the "cides" include herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, and fungicides.


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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