Urban Agriculture and Food Forestry
"Urban agriculture" and "food forestry" may sound like a paradox considering the last century has seen urban growth paving over our prime agricultural lands, and forests around the world getting cut down for commercial crops. However, for most of our history, human settlements were integrally connected to their local sources of food, veggies, fruit, eggs, fish, etc. and the best food systems around the world were those that worked with nature. Even in Los Angeles County, one hundred years ago, we were one of the most agriculturally productive counties in the United States, and more than half our population were farmers and ranchers.
Demographics and development have changed dramatically in the last one hundred years, and now we find ourselves vulnerable, completely dependent on a complicated, distant, and dangerously unsustainable food system. Clearly, when considering options for a sustainable urban food system, we ultimately realize that we will need more people to take up the vocation of urban farmer to plan and develop urban food systems, from kitchen veggie/herb gardens, to aquaculture, to integrated food forests.
The food forest is a timeless concept that may become increasingly popular as a necessity, as well as a style of landscaping. Food forests refer to the mimicing of a healthy climax ecosystem in the garden, including the different layers and patterns (using plants of varying layers and layouts: canopy trees, mid-level trees, understory trees, bushes, herbs, groundcovers, roots, vines, clumppers, emergents, volunteers, etc.) Tilling is not encouraged, and soil building is done through lugiminous plant roots and leaf mulch. Water is retained and amounts used reduced. In Los Angeles the concept is perfect for our climate, property layouts, and coupled with greywater and rainwater, can be very lush.
In 1998 La Loma Development Founder, Marco Barrantes was writing on the subject of local food sustainability in cities, studying "Ecology, Culture, and Sustainable Communities in NCOC North Bay campus. Which would eventually become his thesis on planning urban food systems, to bring to light what seemed to be completely ignored by both city planners and landscape architects. Marco wrote "Feed Your City: Field Guide to Planning for Food Systems" as a candidate for the dual masters program in City Planning and Landscape Architecture, at UC Berkeley.
Nowadays we use this background to inform our promotion of projects and policies, including planting food forests and edible landscapes whenever we get a chance in our work. In recent events, we were excited to hear about the opening of the Huntington Ranch at the Huntington Library. A 15 acre "part agricultural preservation project and part experimental urban agriculture station." The Huntington also plans to open a public kitchen garden in the near future. While not everyone has 15 acres of land to dedicate to food production, it can be done on a much smaller, personal and intimate sphere, especially if we are to increase our food production with local and sustainable methodologies, and feed our cities within dense urban areas.