From Lawn to Food Forest

Campus community gardens provide opportunities for faculty, students, and staff to engage in urban farming. A seven-layer permaculture system comprising edible plants and designed to mimic forest structure called food forest, could provide even more benefits. This symbiotic, self-sustaining, resilient system produces a high yield in small spaces and requires minimal inputs once established. Thus, we transformed an existing campus lawn into a food forest, which will serve as a living laboratory. The goal is to measure positive impacts of this action, i.e., handprints including a) growing more food on less land, b) increased biodiversity, c) eliminating conventional fertilizer harmful to water sources, d) offsetting conventional produce, and associated transportation emissions, e) reducing human health impacts of chemicals compared to conventionally grown produce, d) educating on sustainability. We measure these impacts by 1) conducting an environmental footprint assessment of the existing lawn, 2) assessing the environmental and economic footprints of starting a food forest, 3) evaluating the handprint assessment of the resulting annual positive changes over the years, and 4) comparing the handprint to campus organizational footprint. Also, the food forest will foster sustainable education, promote community building, and inspire change by serving as a model for backyard transformation.