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The Fruitful Communities initiative.

Productive Urban Landscapes: Stacking Functions

The foundation of the Fruitful Communities initiative is Productive Urban Landscapes (PUL’s), food forests and pollinator gardens that both function as proper landscaping (natural dressing for the outside of buildings) and produce lots of social and economic benefits. Unlike other systems that local governments and communities are responsible for, landscaping is one of the most straight-forward to design with a natural, function-stacking mindset. After-all, landscapes are just purposeful nature. Even the wildest permaculture landscape has still been grown with intentionality. Public spaces are no different.

While every Productive Urban Landscape is different (based on local geography, water flows, climate, space, sunlight, budgetary concerns, as well as a host of other factors), they generally share key characteristics:

  • Minimize work and inputs (like gas-powered equipment, or pesticide/herbicide use)

  • Incorporate native pollinator plants

  • Include food-producing trees and shrubs

  • Encourage ecological soil health practices

PUL’s are dynamic landscapes that integrate some elements of traditional landscaping (like organized planting patterns and areas to sit, eat, and play) but bring in elements of the natural world (like biodiversity, pollinator habitats, etc.), and plants that provide us with food (like veggies, berries, and fruit trees). They use the natural desires of plants and animals in order to create lively, joyful, gorgeous, and eminently useful places that can be enjoyed year round.

And how much does all this cost?

The best part of PUL’s? They don’t cost any more than traditional landscapes to build and maintain. While the upfront cost of installing PUL’s can be higher (depending on acreage converted, plants used, hardscaping, etc.), the actual long term maintenance of these spaces is similar in cost and effort to traditional landscaping. In most cases it’s a literal 1:1 trade off, a matter of simply shifting landscaping budgets from one paradigm to another. And sometimes it can even be less expensive!

But the long-term benefits to your neighborhood, city, or county extend well beyond saving money on landscaping. From needing less water, pesticides, and herbicides, to decreased flooding and air pollution, PUL’s create an array of positive feedback loops that radiate through budgets, loosening up space for new or expanded social services in other departments.

HOT TIP: Here are FIVE ways PUL’s are good for the environment:

  • Sequester Carbon

  • Increase biodiversity

  • Decrease water use

  • Reduces fossil fuel use

  • Decreases soil erosion

Landscapers versus Growers.

In the end, PUL’s are still landscapes and need to be regularly maintained. While the maintenance isn’t more expensive, it is different. Rather than people riding lawn mowers and blowing leaves into gutters, PUL Growers spend their days weeding pollinator gardens, trimming bushes and trees, and harvesting fruits and nuts for the public. The maintenance of these spaces creates a new category of semi-skilled employment that pays better, eliminates many of the worst health effects of traditional landscaping, and is a slower and more thoughtful community role. Growers interact with the public, answer questions, and even lead teams of volunteers during harvest season, turning landscapers into important public-facing examples of local government dollars working for average people.

The Fruitful Communities Initiative

The Fruitful Communities initiative (FCi) is a suite of educational and advocacy programs developed by Roots Down that work together to create a roadmap for turning local landscaping budgets into drivers of positive change. With special emphasis on what we call Community Land Assets (libraries, schools, parks, and community centers), Roots Down works directly with government officials and employees, landscapers, and residents to show the way to a new landscaping paradigm. Here are just a few of the benefits of the Fruitful Communities initiative:


  • Increases food security

  • Creates green jobs

  • Provides K-12 STEAM education

  • Increases community engagement


  • Sequesters carbon

  • Increases biodiversity

  • Increases soil health

  • Decreases water runoff and soil erosion

  • Eliminates pesticide/herbicide use

  • Reduces fossil fuel use

  • Decreases water use

What makes a Fruitful Community?

A Fruitful Community is a neighborhood, city, or county that has financially and organizationally committed to the conversion of the majority of land to Productive Urban Landscapes (PUL’s), landscapes that consist of:

  • Native pollinator plants

  • Food-producing trees and shrubs

  • Ecological soil health practices

  • No pesticide/herbicide and all-electric maintenance

PUL’s can then be used as community engagement and STEAM education zones that promote land stewardship, local food production, and generate green jobs. Additionally, Fruitful Communities also have policies and economic incentives in place that promote the expansion of PUL’s throughout the community, even into residents’ backyards.

Fruitful Communities in action.

The key elements of any Fruitful Communities plan are the following:

  • Community Land Asset assessments for all libraries, schools, parks, and community centers

  • Urban agriculture and land use policy audit and recommended changes

  • Economic incentive recommendations

  • Pilot designs, sketches, and look books

  • And lots more!

We may be the experts on growing Fruitful Communities, but no one knows a community like locals. That's why we engage with residents and other community stakeholders first. Through our app and Roots Down membership, we provide tools, inspiration, and resources for converting your home into a PUL, and advocating to local officials for making public spaces into PUL's. People are at the center of what we do, and that’s why we take great strides to ensure all voices are heard, and that Fruitful Community plans reflect the scale, aesthetic and recreational preferences, and character of the community it serves.

For a peek at what a Fruitful Communities initiative looks like in action, check out our Case Study about our work in Clarkston, GA.

Clarkston Case Study
Download PDF • 2.45MB

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