Author Brie Arthur Is Leading The National Suburban Foodscape Movement
“Once Upon A Time, veggie gardens lived in the backyard, isolated from the rest of the landscape,” begins a synopsis of Brie Arthur’s book, The Foodscape Revolution: Finding A Better Way To Make Space For Food And Beauty In Your Garden. “That’s so yesterday!,” the publisher continues, “Welcome to a whole new world of food gardening—right up front, sharing space with your ornamental plants for year-round knockout beauty and function…in a way that even homeowners associations (HOAs) would approve.
“Brie Arthur’s The Food Revolution is filled with valuable tips and how-to’s, including which landscape plants play well with their edible companions, which edibles can replace favorite ornamentals and be just as beautiful—and how to harvest, preserve and make the most of your bounty.”
In the introduction, Arthur, who now lives and gardens in North Carolina, defines, “Foodscaping is the logical integration of edibles in a traditional ornamental landscape. In other words, to foodscape is to grow food alongside your flowers, within the landscape that already exists. It is a design and growing strategy that makes the most of the square footage in every landscape. I’m not suggesting everyone ‘become a farmer’ by digging up the front yard—far from it.
“Through foodscaping, you can harness the sunny open mulch space that’s already in a prime spot and add your favorite edibles like kale, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, lettuce and carrots,” she continues, “The average suburban foundation landscape—the landscape around the house—offers open space the equivalent of 1,250 square feet or 48 average-sized 4×8-feet raised beds. That’s a lot of edible potential! While an urban lot may offer less planting space, any sunny area can be foodscaped, even if you’re living in a townhome or condo with only a deck or front porch.”
Arthur notes that in North Carolina, “Builders cannot close on a new housing development without planning for developed space around each home, which means every homeowner (or renter) has a ready-made plot of land likely suitable for growing food, along with ornamental plants. This open space often has irrigation installed, or at the very least, is close to a water source. This is ideal for the foodscaper, since the closer to your home you can grow vegetables, the better you’ll be able to care for them.
“You might be asking, But what if I don’t want to make a long-term commitment?,” she adds, “That’s the beauty of foodscaping: If life gets in the way one year and you didn’t get those annual veggies in the ground, you don’t have to worry about an empty garden space for weeds to take over. You’ll always have the shrubs, perennials and trees that were already there. Go ahead and enjoy them until you can get back to planting your edibles again.”
Arthur’s foodscaping career story started when she was in college. “Once a week I’d treat myself to lunch at the café down the street from the Horticulture building on campus,” she says, “The café’ had the most delicious mac and cheese and pre-made salads. Unfortunately, one fateful day I got sick. Like, really sick. What I thought was the flu turned out to be E. coli from one of those salads. (Since then, I try to eat only lettuce I have grown, washed and prepared.)
“Lettuce was my first ‘crop,’ and I grew it on my windowsill,” she says, “A 99-cent investment provided enough seeds to grow and eat salad for six months. A few years into school, I moved out into ‘the country’ with a group of fellow students. We lived on a hog farm and gardened in a plot the farmer had tilled for us. We wanted to grow completely organically, but we had absolutely no idea what we were doing.
“For one thing, we planted 300 cauliflowers,” she confesses, “but wouldn’t treat them with anything chemical. (We didn’t know that the natural pest control Bt, Bacillus thuringiensis, was perfectly legitimate and harmless.) Well, I cooked that cauliflower for hours and then made soup that was infested with cabbageworms! The sad part of that story is that here we were, going to school for horticulture, and all we ere learning about was designing with and planting ornamentals—not about the wide, wide world of edible plants.”
Arthur notes that her first real efforts at foodscaping were almost by accident when she bought her first home in 2005. “I wanted to be able to access local organic produce, but I couldn’t afford it,” she remembers, ”I didn’t have the skills or tools to build raised beds, either. Instead I started tucking my favorite food crops into the landscape beds that I had inherited. Inspired by Rosalind Creasy and her Edible Landscaping books, I set out to create a suburban yard that was both bountiful and beautiful, despite my tight budget and concerns about my homeowners association’s (HOA) covenants.
“Much to my surprise,” she says, “a year into developing my first foodscape, my garden was given the highest honor a suburban development can bestow upon a residence: Yard of the year! Though generally reserved for the artificially-managed green lawns and clipped-hedged sort of landscapes, my organic garden broke the mold. It was an empowering moment when I realized we can develop a balance between ornamentals and edibles and meet the landscape guidelines set by HOAs.
“Eventually my quarter-acre lot was bursting at the seams with a beautiful mix of turf, trees, flowering shrubs, perennials, and organic food, such as soybeans, corn, squash and tomatoes,” she says proudly, “I started to dream about the massive potential the suburban landscape offers. Imagine if every house had a small foodscape that was managed through the HOA fees? All residents would have access to fresh produce that would be just steps away from their home. When done right, foodscaping could allow people to have a lot more money to allocate to things other than food.”
Arthur soon began dreaming bigger, “I saw that by utilizing the growth potential and open land of housing developments, businesses and school campuses, foodscaping could extend beyond the individual home and offer a solution for sustainable land management on a larger scale, ” she says, “Though urban farming is a sexy topic and a worthy one, the truth is there are roughly 180 million acres devoted to urban sprawl in the U.S.—that’s more acreage than all of our national and state parks combined!
“I could visualize the untapped potential of what could be grown on under-utilized developed land like the suburban landscape,” she says, “Over the past decade, I have dedicated a lot of time to figuring out the dynamic between the woody ornamental plants that make up the average landscape, the turf space that manages excess water,, and the vast square footage of open mulch space that immature landscapes offer.
“I gave myself a goal: to demonstrate in my own life how much food could be produced by integrating practical edibles into the common spaces of my own neighborhood,” she concludes, “If it could work for me, then how could this design model potentially impact the accessibility of nutrition in every community? And for the landscape industry, which would naturally become involved, I asked how does offering the service of growing food empower professionals for the future?”
Arthur has worked diligently to achieve that goal, and the book is filled with her recommendations and inspiring color photographs demonstrating her success. Her text is allocated into three parts: the first demonstrating a model for creating a foodscape, the second—a bevy of foodscaping projects—and finally a yard-to-table section that features techniques for harvesting, preserving and processing, as well as recipes.
About the author: “Originally from southeastern Michigan, Brie Arthur studied Landscape Design and Horticulture at Purdue University. She has more than a decade of experience in plant production at leading nurseries. Today she conveys her love of plants and design through her writing, speaking, film production and consulting. Brie is an inspired creative advocate for the value of horticulture in our lives—both for the green industry and the public.”
Visit her website at https://briegrows.com