Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Food Prairie

In earlier posts we considered the dark side of food availability as described by the ecology of the food desert and the food swamp. We now turn our attention to the more positive approaches and what we can do about food availability within the food desert, which will also help neutralize the food swamp.

A prairie is an ecosystem that consists of grasslands, savannas and shrub land biomes described by ecologists, based on similar temperature climates, moderate rainfall and composition of plants, herbs, and shrubs, but not usually trees, as dominant vegetation types.

Theodore Roosevelt said, "We have taken into our language the word prairie, because when our backwoodsman first reached the land (in the Midwest) and saw the great natural meadows of long grass -- sights unknown to the gloomy forests wherein they had always dwelt--they knew not what to call them, and borrowed the term already in use among the French inhabitants." Prairie is the French word for meadow, but the root goes further back to the Latin pratum.

I like this analogy because most of our deep soils were formed by prairie species and vast herds of grazing animals. A food prairie is one way to counter act the down sides of the food desert and swamp. The food prairie uses a balanced concept of  perennials and annuals to provide fresh, clean and wholesome food right in the neighborhood. Unlike the food forest that requires planning and a longer time horizon to develop the perennials, the favorite garden plants can be used in a food prairie.

So where do you find a "meadow" in the urban landscape. Just about anyplace with open space. Open lots, boulevards and backyards can all be transformed into sources of fresh, healthy food with very little investment in infrastructure or time.

We spent 20 years learning to optimize our little corner of the food prairie and several hundred families are growing with us as friends and fellow gardeners. Whether you are just getting started or have been developing your own prairie for years there is always more to learn.

Irrigate the desert and drain the swamp, start your own food prairie today.

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