A Growing Trend in the U.S.: Food Forests

Mound-forming alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca) tolerate a range of soil and climate conditions and produce small fruits intermittently throughout the growing season.

Upstart food forests — designed landscapes incorporating perennial and woody plants that produce food — are popping up around the US, inspired no doubt by Seattle’s new Beacon Hill Food Forest as well as successful older sites including Mercy Emily Edible Park on 18 vacant lots in Philadelphia and Dr. George Washington Carver Edible Park in Asheville, NC.

In 2013, a public food forest was established in Johnson City, TN. Others were begun or are scheduled to begin still this year in Basalt, CO, Austin, TX, and Tacoma, WA. Future food forests have been proposed for Greensboro, NC, Davenport, IA, Lincoln, NE, and Painter, VA.

Perennial Egyptian walking onions (Allium cepa) develop clusters of bulbs at the tops of their stems, which gradually prompt them to lean down to the ground and root, producing a new clump of stems.

Cincinnati, OH, is planning to incorporate a public edible food forest into its multi-year development of a 28-mile greenway along the Ohio River. Encinitas, CA, hopes to add food islands to existing public parks. The Wetherby Edible Forest Maze in Iowa City, IA will be expanded.

In Kauai, HI, where there is already one public food forest, the state legislature is considering a bill based on a 15-year-old girl’s vision to create a community food forest program.

Though challenges exist and their future may be uncertain, it seems that American citizens and organizations, and even some government agencies, are fired up about growing perennial edibles in public areas. Assuming this trend continues, could it change the way we view our public landscapes and their capacity to provide each of us with at least an occasional free, fresh-picked snack?

Bush cherries (Prunus tomentosa) produce small, semi-sour fruits that attract berry-loving birds and also humans who like to graze as they wander.


  1. I really like the idea of food forests and hope the idea continues to catch on. There doesn’t seem to be much of a downside to utilizing otherwise wasted space to grow some locally acclimated fruits and veggies.

  2. I’m all for this idea. Are they maintained by volunteers?

    When I was a kid in the 60’s, ornamental fruit trees were the rage; trees that fruited were considered high maintenance, “messy” and encouraged “wildlife” (read: rodents). My, how things have changed!

  3. I use Alpine strawberries as a form of ground cover, bird attractor, and if I’m lucky get some for myself. They grow like weeds and look good most of the season. Can’t see any reason why they wouldn’t work in a public park, but someone is going to have to be out there weeding a few times a year. Right now all the cities have to do is mow the lawn, I’m wondering if the weeding will be done by volunteers? I can’t imagine that any city has the budget to pay it’s employees to weed.

  4. Definitely have some walking onions to contribute to something like this in my neighborhood. In fact, I may just toss some into the vacant overgrown lots near me and see what happens.

  5. Seems like many of the projects are spearheaded or sponsored by an enthusiastic group of citizen gardeners, so I imagine they are going to step in and maintain the areas, as well as replanting when necessary, etc. There are some native edibles, and native companion plants that bring in pollinators, and I would hope the designs will include those. Every project is different. We can only hope that, as this idea spreads, good models will come to the fore so they can be adapted by other locations.

  6. I love this idea too. It should absolutely include natives because I live in Texas and so many things can’t take the intense heat. But to me the garden really can foster a real sense of community and connectedness and I am all for anything that does that!

  7. This would be a great idea…. I understand about the liabilities though, it would have to be weeded to prevent someone especially children from picking and eating something that is inedible. Why can’t this be some type of non-profit organization set up where people can donate money to it and volunteers can sign up to weed the grounds when needed. I think it would be amazing if properly executed!

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