For the last 160 years, American society has moved out of dense urban environments into sprawling suburbs. With wealth and better transportation, we have been able to migrate from the concrete jungle into single-family homes with front and back yards, with trees and sprawling gardens. Our ornamental gardens were sources of pride and signatures of wealth. Truth be told, we have come a long way in the last two centuries and it’s now time to consider — can beauty and sustainability mix? The answer is, of course.

Southern Californians have been encouraged for some time to move from high-water-usage gardens to more arid-friendly plants, but for those who don’t necessarily enjoy gardens full of cacti and succulents, there is another solution: edible landscapes.

While many may think edible landscapes should be left to imaginary authors such as Roald Dahl, who wrote #Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory#, building a garden that provides just as much aesthetic beauty as it does taste sensation has become a growing phenomenon. In the quest for sustainability, the Ojai Valley Green Coalition will begin a series of workshops to help people turn their ornamental gardens into urban food forests.

Former Ventura resident Devin Slavin, who helped start the local Grow Food Party Crew in 2008, will be traveling from Santa Cruz to speak at the homes of residents who want to trade their bougainvillea bushes for grape vines and their birch trees for citrus. Dulanie La Barre of Ojai, who co-chairs the Food Council of the Ojai Valley Green Coalition, has opened her yard for the first workshop with the vision of making her garden, at least in part, edible.

Slavin, who will also be available, for a nominal fee, to consult participants at their homes, will provide templates for perennial food forests and annual veggie gardens at the workshops. Ojai resident Charles Duncan, owner of Turquoise Horticulture, will also be attending, speaking on trees that will thrive in our semi-arid Mediterranean climate and will also address the specific zones in Ventura County that vary from the beach to the hills of Ojai and in the San Fernando Valley.

With the cost of living seemingly always on the rise, sustainability and independence are of great importance. We can continue to complain about the costs of food or actually do something about it. While it’s virtually impossible to live totally off the land of our front and back yards, we can at least join the movement to get us closer to that goal. In moving toward this goal, we will also reduce our carbon footprint, eating a variety of fruit and vegetables from our own yards versus imports from South America and elsewhere.

For those already a part of the urban food forest movement who find themselves with an overabundance of fruit and/or vegetables, contact Meg Horton of FOOD Share, Ventura County’s food bank, at 983-7100, ext. 105.  She has volunteers available to glean trees; or for the dedicated farmers who enjoy that work, FOOD Share accepts such food donations. 

The first of several workshops in the principles and practices of creating an urban “food forest” will be held this Saturday, Jan. 12, in Ojai as a project of the Ojai Valley Green Coalition. The first day-long workshop is by reservation through the OVGC website at $30 for OVGC members, $35 for nonmembers, (includes a vegetarian lunch, handouts and seeds). The workshops are open to the public and will cover such topics as site assessment and garden design, intensive fruit tree orchards, high-yield vegetable gardening, chickens and coop building, pond construction and aquaculture, fire pit kiva and bamboo pavilion construction. For more details and reservations, call 669-8445 or go to tiny url: For urban food forest at your home, Devin Slavin can be reached at