Jan. 15 2019 10:11 AM

Grass is still king, but there is a market in serving people who want fruit trees and berry bushes in their front yards.

Edible landscapes are more popular than ever, according to a story by Stephanie Parker on civileats.com. “Unlawning,” the act of turning lawns into fertile, edible landscapes, has been gaining popularity over that last decade. No mere backyard garden plots with a few veggie plants, these are landscapes that incorporate edible native plants such as fruit trees along with pollinator habitats, medicinal herbs and water features.

Critics of lawns claim that grassed yards take 9 billion gallons of water per day, around 90 million pounds of fertilizers and 75 million pounds of pesticides per year. They also don’t care for gas-driven lawnmowers. Defenders of turf grass point out, however, that lawns also return oxygen to the air, absorb pollutants, reduce stress and help combat the urban heat island effect. And, wherever efficient irrigation practices are employed, they drastically reduce the amount of water needed to keep lawns green

Artist Fritz Haeg is a well-known proponent of edible landscapes. In 2005, he began a years-long project called “Edible Estates,” where he traveled across the U.S. turning yards into edible masterpieces. Since then, there has been a steady growth in awareness of edible landscapes in the U.S.

“When we began, there was very little ecological literacy,” Sarah Kelsen told Parker. Kelsen is an ecological engineer and co-owner of Land Beyond the Sea, an edible design firm founded in 2010 in Ithaca, New York. “Now, it feels like there’s been a completely exponential increase.”

“The trend toward planting food is on the rise again,” says Fred Meyer, who started an edible landscaping organization called Backyard Abundance back in 2006. Meyer believes that the 2008 recession contributed to the rising popularity of edible landscapes, as people tend to fall back on growing food in times of insecurity.

“Not a lot of people were used to the idea of replacing parts of their lawn or ornamental landscapes with edible landscapes,” says edible landscaper Ben Barkan. He founded HomeHarvest LLC 10 years ago in Boston. Now, he says, there is more interest and his business has grown.

Barkan likens today’s edible landscape movement to the Victory Gardens Americans were encouraged to plant during World War II. That effort grew an estimated 40 percent of the produce consumed in the United States during that era. Today, America grows less than half of its own fruit and just over two-thirds of its fresh vegetables, even though home gardening is becoming more popular. A 2014 study showed that one-third of Americans currently grow food at home, an increase of 17 percent from 2008. “I see it continuing as long as things continue to be unpredictable,” Meyer says.

The yard-into-garden trend strikes a blow for biodiversity as well. Edible landscapes increase the diversity of insect populations, create habitat for birds and other wildlife, and provide ideal conditions for the millions of microbes that make up healthy soil.

Even so, Parker states, lawns are still “as American as apple pie.” Not everyone is rushing to turn their greenspace into an agricultural field. “Houston is a tough market,” says Josh Reynolds, owner of the Houston-based Texas Edible Landscapes. “I am trying to educate Texans through the use of workshops, but interest remains low.”

And there can also be resistance from local government and homeowners associations as well. HOAs are notorious for being rigid about about the appearance of yards. Skilled, successful edible designers take this into account and strive to create landscapes that are as pretty as they are productive.

Green industry professionals that are interested in learning about edible landscapes can turn to schools and organizations for help and advice. You might also try contacting the owners of the edible landscape companies mentioned in the story. Some of the others include Earthbound Artisan, Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Fleet Farming, Orlando, Florida; Portland Edible Gardens, Portland, Oregon; Urban Plantations, San Diego, California and many others that can be found online.