When the economy entered its downward spiral in 2008, most everything related to housing hit the skids, including the lawn and garden industry. But one sector escaped the pinch – food gardening.
In fact, according to the National Gardening Association, sales spiked 20 percent and stayed there. While many households started growing food to be more budget conscious, some are deciding vegetables and fruits can be beautiful too.
It goes by several names – “edible landscaping,” “foodscaping,” or perhaps “front yard farming.” Jeremy Lekich is an evangelist for edibles. He already sees the world as his salad bar.
“It’s called lambsquarter,” he says, chomping into what laymen would see as a weed. “Most people know it. It grows everywhere in disturbed soils, and it’s actually the wild ancestor of quinoa.”
Lekich and his company – Nashville Foodscapes – specialize in unconventional projects, like planting an entire yard in a plant like buckwheat, which produces a type of cereal. That’s what yoga instructor James Alvarez wanted. He’s one happy customer. His mother, however, is not a fan of his knee-high lawn.
“She’s like, ‘you get that Bermuda grass and you blend in,’” he says. “It’s tough, even with the parents.”
An Old Fashioned Idea
Edible landscaping can veer into the extreme. But Alvarez defends his dream as old fashioned.
“I want to feed me and my family and give whatever else to everybody else,” he says. “I think that’s how it should be and I think we would be in a better place if everybody did that.”
A third of American households are now doing some kind of food gardening. For most, that’s a few tomatoes out back. But it says something when people are paying a professional company to plant their food, says National Gardening Association researcher Bruce Butterfield.
“Those who can afford to hire a landscape contractor and have the truck and crew, they’re seeing it as being a cool thing to do,” he says.
Even nursing homes and hotels have been asking their landscapers to mix in more greens. One of the nation’s largest companies – the Brickman Group – reports an uptick in request for herbs and vegetables.
For single family homes, practical planting usually increases during a recession, says the NGA’s Butterfield. He says it’s significant, though, that the millions who’ve gotten into food gardening don’t appear to be getting out. That’s what historically happens.
“Times got good again and they said it’s too much work or too much trouble,” he says. “I think it’s fundamentally different this time.”
Butterfield sees movements toward eating local and living sustainably as fertilizer for the trend.
For Those With and Without Green Thumbs
Other than the urban chicken coup, Jane Hardy’s West End yard is virtually all flowers. But four years ago she started adding grapes, juneberries and a plum tree.
“My goal is to have edibles, but I want them to be beautiful, and I want them to not require a lot of work,” she says.
The appeal isn’t just for green thumbs like Hardy. Amy Pierce saw her first edible landscape, and decided to go that way too. The working mother figures if she’s going to pay for plants, they might as well make a meal.
“That whole notion that I could have a raspberry bush alongside blueberry bushes, and I could make a fruit salad out of my backyard was just very novel and very new to me,” she says. “It’s almost embarrassing to admit it.”
As more Americans return to their roots, edible experts like Jeremy Lekich encourage them to keep food plants by the front porch. He says fruits and veggies can be just as beautiful as shrubs and flowers.
“They just have this amazing ability to nourish you too,” he adds.
It’s just one man’s opinion, but Lekich says maybe that makes foodscaping even