What Is Foodscaping?

Foodscaping: some of you may have heard about it, but if you're like most, you probably have not, so we're here to enlighten you. Foodscaping is landscaping to grow food, and to some, it's just a fancy way of saying a garden of food crops in your backyard.

That's if you're talking to a skeptic, though, because foodscaping for many is an all-encompassing way of growing a garden, feeding yourself, and making it look pretty, too. Foodscaping is not just planting a raised bed of crops like herbs, tomato plants, or citrus plants in your backyard — it's a way of creating an integrative landscape, one that is not only resourceful because it produces foods that you can eat but that also is self-sufficient and low-maintenance.

Foodscaping began as a result to an economic downturn in 2008, a solution to rising food costs and the high prices of landscaping and maintaining a nice looking backyard. Since then, though, it's become a comprehensive way of growing your own food and controlling what you eat.

That's how Jeremy Lekich of Nashville Foodscapes describes it. His company, started in 2010, offers "creative food solutions through landscaping" by helping plan and execute their clients' foodscaping. Think of the company as a hybrid of a landscaper and a farmer: they're not only helping you plan and map out a beautiful lawn, but they're doing it by using plants that have practical value, and in a way so that the plants support each other. It's a full site design, as Lekich describes, where they determine where the sun is, where the shade is, and where the wet and dry soil is located in your yard. And most importantly, where the water is flowing.

This part of foodscaping, what some like to call waterscaping, is a truly revolutionary way of looking at gardening. Not only are they helping you decide where and what crops to plant, but Lekich's company will also determine how the water flows on your property and will plan a garden that supports itself. For example, if they suggest a group of fruit plants for an area of your yard, they'll place them in a spot where there's an adequate water source, and with what Lekich calls "support plants" surrounding them, ones that naturally extract healthy and supportive minerals from the soil and deposit them on their leaves so that they help the fruit plants grow, too. That, combined with the water systems, is how a garden can feed off itself and require very little work from you.

So why is this all happening? As Lekich puts it, it's a way of blending the new age of farming, which has only been around for the past few hundred years or so, with what our ancestors did for thousands of years, hunting and gathering off what the land provided. To become experts on self-sufficient ecosystems, Lekich and his team study natural habitats and forests and evaluate how they survive without little care or maintenance. They then apply those methods to their work with their clients so that they're not only encouraging farming, but also a hunter-gatherer mentality that cavemen thousands of years ago survived with.

"Deeper down, humans have [always] been connected to their food production. What it means to be a human is to get your hands dirty and be a part of the food production system. It's only been a few hundred years that we've kind of gotten out of the whole growing our own food idea," Lekich tells The Daily Meal, alluding to the idea that we as humans are not only going back to a trend of growing our own food through farming, but we're reaching back and applying even older forms of farming techniques, as well.

There are plenty of reasons why you would foodscape. For one, it's environmentally sound. Not only are you cutting down on energy costs from not having to mow your lawn, but you're avoiding the use of chemically modified products and plants that are the most readily available options at major home and gardening supply stores. With issues like GMOs, pesticides, and quite frankly, poor food choices at local supermarkets, it's a great solution for taking the reins to control what kind of food you cook and eat.

Not to mention, foodscaping is pretty. Lekich had a long list of eye-catching plants that add cosmetic value to your landscape and are surprisingly edible. Plants like dogwoods, hostas, service berries, and even Japanese roses are beautiful to look at and they can feed you, too. Last but not least, it's been scientifically proven that digging your hands into the soil can make you happy. Studies have shown that microorganisms found in the soil can actually release neurotransmitters to the brain that contain serotonin, our brainiac way of saying happiness.

Foodscaping isn't the answer to all of our problems, but it's a way of changing our culture from one that's all about consumption and convenience to one that's patient and more aware of our surroundings. Foodscaping is food and gardening education from start to finish, and it's Lekich's hope that it comes at a low labor price for those who choose to practice it. "With good design and good practices, you can actually create a landscape that feeds you and that's also low-maintenance — you don't have to do a lot of work to keep it going," he says.

It's times like these when we think that our hunter-gatherer ancestors were onto something, and foodscaping may be an initiative that we all want to pay attention to.  

Anne Dolce is the Cook editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @anniecdolce