“Food desert” has become a well-known term for an urban area where people do not have access to fresh food. But now, community “food forests” are popping up around cities and towns across the U.S., including one on Glencoe Avenue in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Venice. The opposite of a food desert, food forests are providing people with healthy, fresh food.

The term “forest” here doesn’t refer to spread out trees but to a vertically integrated ecosystem with plants of various heights and root layers. In this case, the forest produces edible products. If you want to get really technical, think seven layers: the tallest overstory tree layer; the shorter understory tree layer; shrub layer; herbaceous layer; root layer; ground cover layer; and vine layer.

Related: Farmscape helps communities embrace urban farming

So where do you plant a food forest? This is the beauty of the movement. People can rip out their fairly useless lawns and plant a multi-layered edible forest. Then, neighbors can trade avocados for potatoes and lemons for alfalfa sprouts. It’s a way to get the freshest food possible, avoid pesticides, get healthier and form stronger community bonds by working toward a common goal.

In Venice, many streets along Glencoe Avenue have traded lawns for enough fruits and vegetables to keep their salad bowls full and their smoothies topped off. They’ve also installed beehives to keep everything pollinated. Their goal is to create a 100% regenerative food forest and show other neighborhoods what’s possible when it comes to taking action against climate change. Local residents leading the movement including Homegrown Gardens founder Matt Van Diepen, herbalist Rainbeau Mars and vegan chef Oliver English. Mars kindly put down her hoe and garden shears long enough to do an e-interview with Inhabitat.

Rainbeau Mars standing in a garden

Inhabitat: Could you give us a brief tour of the food forest highlights we’d find walking down Glencoe Ave?

Rainbeau Mars: It’s beautiful to experience and eat the refreshing fruits, veggies and edible flowers of Glencoe Avenue, a pollinator sanctuary where you’ll find flourishing gardens featuring figs, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, lemons, nettles, dandelion, squash, carrots, radishes, cabbage, passion fruit, mint, basil, tarragon, thyme, rosemary, lavender, potatoes, peas, tomatoes, snapdragon, borage, calendula, kales, lettuce and even fresh honey, in lieu of store-bought meals.

Inhabitat: How is the food distributed? Who gets to eat it?

Mars: People readily grow their own gardens, make trades with neighbors and give as gifts and blessings. Currently, there’s a movement taking place where we as neighbors are encouraging each other to replace unusable lawns by teaching one another how to compost, plant seeds and share the benefits of growing your own food. Generally speaking, neighbors invite one another to mutually take what they need.

people digging in soil

Inhabitat: Why does Venice need a food forest?

Mars: Every single one of us gets to receive the abundance Mother Nature has bestowed us with. While having a perfectly ‘manicured lawn’ became a status symbol at some point signifying you could afford an outside doctor, now we have the opportunity to restore our gardens and heal ourselves at home again. By growing, nurturing and utilizing our own garden for its natural medicinal and nutritional benefits, we’re also helping protect our precious pollinators, like hummingbirds and bees, at the same time.

Inhabitat: How did you start your partnership on this?

Mars: My house on Glencoe is the forth residence where we’ve removed the lawn and created a food forest. I wasn’t aware until I lived here for a couple years how many of my neighbors were on the same wave. After I began making relationships, having daily conversations and realizing what was already there, which was that many of the neighbors had already transformed their homes and have been doing this work for a long time, we started encouraging others to be part of this beautiful solution. Realizing the benefits of carbon sequestration through soil regeneration, we started ‘Bee The Garden’ to formalize the movement. 

Black Lives Matter sign above a lush community garden

Inhabitat: What would you tell someone who was questioning keeping their lawn?

Mars: “I am only one person, how much does what I do matter?” … says 700 million people, which is the amount of us needed to create an environmental and climate shift toward healing the planet.

Inhabitat: What else should readers know about your food forest?

Mars: It’s so lovely to experience the healing blessings of nature. Each flower, fruit and gift that’s grown helps restore and regenerate our bodies, minds and hearts. I never knew listening and returning to nature would be the thing I was always searching for, and it’s all at our own feet. I invite everyone to do the same.

person digging in soil

Inhabitat: How can people fight hunger and minimize waste in their communities?

Mars: Grow fruit trees today such as avocados, apples, figs, breadfruit and allow yourself to stop cutting and mowing your lawn, which can easily grow food that’s high in nutrition and protein. If possible, take action to regenerate the schools, farms and parks in your community, and regrow the garden that we all belong to.

Feeling inspired to rip out your lawn and start a food forest movement in your community? Check out The Community Food Forest Handbook.

+ Rainbeau Mars

Via Project Food Forest and Sustainable America

Images via Bee The Garden