Edible Landscapes – from England to New England

Imagine walking down the street in your hometown and passing blueberry bushes full of berries for you to pick along the way (sharing them with the birds of course).  Or nut trees in the public park with a sign saying “please gather and share these nuts.”  Or perhaps an edible groundcover like Alpine strawberry, wintergreen, sage, mint, oregano, chamomile or thyme around public buildings?

Crazy, you say?

Maybe – but this is what is happening in Todmorden, a small town in the north of England, and being planned for the University of Massachusetts campus in Amherst, Massachusetts USA.  There is unused or underutilized public and private land in many places that could be growing food.  Please enjoy the story of how this crazy idea sprouted in Todmorden!

As Pam Warhurst says in the video, this is the beginning of a revolution.  Food provides a unifying language that everyone speaks.  Community resilience can grow and community spirit can explode when a simple idea like growing food in public spaces gets momentum.  Communities around the world are copying Todmorden become more food self-sufficient by replacing unused grassy areas with beautiful and productive food plants.

A similar proposal was developed by students at the University of Massachusetts to create an “edible campus.”  UMass students have a history of turning grass into food gardens. The UMass Permaculture Program was recognized by the White House as a Campus Champion of Change.  The following video presents the work of the UMass students who transformed unproductive space to a vibrant community garden.

Students at UMass have imagined a place where the ecologically simple lawns are replaced by diverse ecosystems offering both beauty and food!

FROM ecological simplicity…

TO ecological diversity…

In addition to planting more gardens in underutilized space on campus, the UMass Permaculture Program and the Stockbridge School of Agriculture will partner with the local school system to plant fruit trees and develop vegetable gardens with the kids.

We can all do more to grow food in public spaces.  According to a recent news story “Local government officials from Baltimore, Maryland, to Bainbridge Island, Washington are plowing under the ubiquitous hydrangeas, petunias, daylilies, and turf grass around public buildings, and planting fruits and vegetables instead — as well as in underutilized spaces in our parks, plazas, street medians, and even parking lots.”  Seattle created the nation’s first public food forest!

Of course, most towns won’t find leadership for this sort of effort from local government.  Citizens can take action on their own however.  A group of young people in Northampton, Massachusetts have launched a campaign called “Help Yourself“.  Their plan is to plant “ignored, abused, and out of mind places, like vacant lots, bike paths, road medians, and lawns of businesses and householdswith edible plants.  They are creating “free food in public spaces”, such as:

  • A community herb garden with informative signs…
  • Free to use – and harvest – raised beds around town...
  • Abundant fruit and nut trees that shower future generations with real wealth…
  • Peas, grapes, and kiwis climbing along fences and railings…
  • Beautiful flowers that attract pollinating insects and reduce pests!

A recent Kickstarter campaign raised $2500 in just a few weeks to begin planting fruit trees along the town bike path and other public spaces.  There are lots of possibilities for creating edible landscapes.  If you are doing a project along these lines, please let us know by posting to the comments box below.


I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends.  And for more ideas, videos and challenges along these lines, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   Go here for more of my World.edu posts.  To get a college degree related to this work, see: UMass Sustainable Food and Farming.

5 thoughts on “Edible Landscapes – from England to New England”

  1. Do you have an example of an “edible landscape?” Submissions from followers:

    1. Tina – Not quite public land, but my church had a couple acres that was not parking or buildings and has planted apple trees, blueberries, asparagus and strawberries and has been removing buckthorn around the perimeter and planting raspberries, rhubarb, blueberries, currants, etc. as a wildlife edible privacy hedge. They also have a large garden which provided 600 pounds of food this year for the local food shelf. Plans are to continue the planting for both wildlife and humans in edibles and natives in a variety of wooded glades, play areas, and so forth. Prior to developing the plan church members studied permaculture with people from the Permaculture Research Institute-Cold Climate to better understand the P principles which we felt were very compatible to our faith and how to implement them. Plans were developed in sections by different members and are being implemented slowly as money and time allow.

    2. Petra – In your area there area fantastic permaculturists. Certainly you will get wonderfull impressions or even can create a marvelous friendship. you can google, find them on facebook or even on linkedin in permaculture professionals.

    3. Gini – My experience is that it is EXTREMELY slow to happen. The trees grow faster than getting it through committees.

    4. Miriam – I read about Seattle having the first public food forest in The Daily Good. Here is the link http://www.dailygood.org/view.php?sid=253

    5. Felipe – http://18thandrhodeislandgarden.org/

    6. Mary – Here is an example from Portland.


    This concept is in play here on rather a large scale, I would think, compared to many other places. This has been a climate of plenty for a long time, because of the rainy season, that makes trees called “dwarf” elsewhere fail to get the memo about that here.

    Tribes that lived here had already dealt with hoarding syndrome before colonists arrived. They had gatherings called potlatches where the serious hoarders had to give things away.

    7. Michele – check out this link – I think you will be inspired: http://www.incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk/ and this one very inspiring speaker talking about the project: http://permaculturenews.org/2012/10/30/pam-warhurst-how-we-can-eat-our-landscapes-ted-video/

    8. Laura – I’ve been working in Seattle for about 5 years on creating public edible landscapes, and we did have some conversations in the beginning with the City about including edible plants in their park plantings. Their main concerns were: lack of staff training on care of edible plants, fear of vermin attracted by fallen fruit and concern about the public trampling established beds. These seemed insurmountable at the time, so we moved from public property to public-funded projects on private or quasi-public property.

    I was delighted to design and help install a permaculture-style public orchard, Community Orchard of West Seattle (www.fruitinwestseattle.org) that includes a 3,000 sq. ft. food forest. This was funded by a grant from the Dept. of Neighborhoods and is sited on the campus of local community college. Just last year, Seattle authorized the Beacon Food Forest: a 7-acre public planting in a previously-unused section of a park in a poorer part of Seattle. When completed it will be the largest food forest in the US, I believe.

    What I’ve learned from all this? Keep plugging away, especially when staff changes within public departments. Figure out how to link things like public safety, waste reduction, tourism, public health or local business activity into your offerings.

    9. Mary – We also have a number of publicly owned working farms, but they are not free food for the picking. You pretty much have to make an arrangement to show up at a particular time and do some work there, I think. One example is Zenger Farm in outer Portland, and there is another example in Lake Oswego, which is near Portland. I believe the LO one is called Luscher, something like that. We also have the Portland Fruit Tree project, where you can work for fruit.

  2. Additional Posts on Linked In:

    10. Kathleen – Hi John I live in your hometown. I joined this group even though I have little clue what permaculture is about. I do plan on learning.

    I know that every time I get an email from you it is about growing food.

    I’ve decided to get rid of my lawn. My front lawn is given over in the moment to what will be ornamental things to delight my eye and my lens, and give the walkers something that pleases them. At least that is the way it is evolving right now.

    My back yard is grass that is waiting for transformation. A year ago after that Halloween snow storm, I took out a huge oak that was leaning over my roof. I had been thinking about this for over a year. I used the storm and the leaning as my excuse. I wanted the sun for some kind of food production.

    We have great farmer’s markets here. The very high quality organic vegetables are plentiful and affordable. I think I should plant things I don’t find in the markets. Anise, carraway, ginger, turmuric, horse raddish, borrage, anything else I want for whatever reason I want it. What is the worst that can happen, I will do it wrong and it won’t grow? (yet another learning curve, what’s new?) I am thinking maybe chickens.

    I think this will make the hens very happy.

    I guess that introduces me and tells you why I am joining this group.

    11. Miriam – Kathleen, a video that helped me best understand the permaculture concept can be found on You Tube. When tou get to the You Tube site, type “farm for the future” into the search engine. Then, look down and you will see “Farm for the Future–BBC Dokumentary 2009!” There are many other videos on You Tube about permaculture, but this one really helped me to get the concept!

    12. Mary – Also Connie Van Dyke’s Tabor Tilth Farm, in the city, is something to see. There is a very nice video done by Starhawk. It is easy to find with a simple search, whenever you wish, but here is a link.

Leave a Reply to John M. Gerber Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s