From Yard to Table: How Thrive Lot is Making Edible Landscaping the Next Big Thing

Image Commercially Licensed
Image Commercially Licensed

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forcing us to stay indoors, 2020 became the unofficial “year of the home” as millions of people sought to improve the quality of their living quarters and domiciles following quarantine mandates and isolation orders. 

But as our society slowly continues to reopen and the world outside our doors becomes increasingly more welcoming once again, the year 2021 has been deemed, according to Forbes, 2021 the “year of the yard,” with the number of homeowners looking to purchase outdoor furniture or accessories to improve the aesthetic appearance or quality of their outdoor spaces jumping to some 58% up from 23% in 2020. However, some homeowners are going even further, looking to transform their outdoor lots or yards into flourishing gardens ripe with healthy and edible foods after suffering more than a year of grocery delivery services and dissatisfying take-out dinners.

“Most people realize that the majority of the food they buy is not only unhealthy but is also produced using a large carbon footprint,” says Justin West, co-founder and CEO of Thrive Lot, a web platform that connects experienced and capable agro-ecological systems designers with high-end edible landscaping and homestead projects. “At the same time, people continue spending their money on vitamins when they could be growing healthy, vitamin-rich food right in their yards.”

According to West, the goal of Thrive Lot’s platform is to capture design and maintenance data in order to digitize agro-ecology and enable the democratization and distribution of this knowledge worldwide. By transitioning the $100 billion US landscaping industry — one that impacts 41 million acres nationwide with ten times the chemical use of agriculture — to self-sufficient home ecology, West and his team at Thrive Lot aim to not only make edible landscaping the next big American hobby, but also to create a way to grow healthy and nutritious food for the nation’s marginalized and underserved communities; many of which are geographically plagued by living in regions known as food deserts.

Revolutionizing the way we view gardening and landscaping

According to West, traditional gardening and landscaping methods simply aren’t giving people what they want. Most “gardening” is only slightly better than monocropping (i.e., growing the same plant and/or crop in the same soil each year) in that it involves fighting nature with chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides while artificially propping up surrounding soils with chemical fertilizers. Because of this, traditional gardening also tends to be more labor-intensive and expensive, thus limiting the amount of Americans who can routinely keep up with the needs of their gardens. 

In comparison, Thrive Lot uses agroecological design principles to develop real soil in the way nature would, but faster. The Thrive Lot Platform hosts a network of local ecologists who design systems in which the right vegetation is always in the right place to feed and protect its plant neighbors. This not only increases the productivity of the vegetation planted, but also removes the need for chemicals and makes the agroecological garden a more efficient growing system: one that is better and healthier for everyone using it, and everything within it.

“People are looking to change the outdated draw of the flat, green grass lawn,” says West. “Instead, people now want lush, colorful lawns. They want healthy gardens that they can use to grow healthier food for less. They want outdoor dining tables and seating arrangements. They want a real garden that they can not only take pride in but rely on to feed them and their families.”

As West explains, over the past few decades, the landscaping industry in the US has evolved into one using a handful of hardy — but otherwise often useless and invasive — species of plants in their designs. These designs are meant to have an organized aesthetic, but otherwise pose no real benefit to homeowners, especially those with a desire or passion for gardening and biodiversity. 

“At Thrive Lot,” West continues, “we pair agroecologists with landscape professionals to design and install systems that are as beautiful as they are biodiverse to create food crops and natural habitats for bees, birds, butterflies, and other animals vital to our ecosystem. Our projects use more native plants and a higher diversity of species, meaning they have more color, texture, and food for pollinators.”

In this way, Thrive Lot all but eschews traditional landscaping methods which rely on chemical inputs to prop up unnatural systems, while theirs develops soil and symbiotic plant relationships for long-term success. By creating agroecological systems of plants that can yield crops naturally and sustainably, Thrive Lot is perfectly positioned to create value where it is needed most: within marginalized communities who have historically been underserved in not only their ecological diversity, but also their access to healthy, nutritious, and vitamin-rich foods, creating the phenomenon known as food deserts.

Sustainable, edible landscaping contributing to marginalized and underserved communities

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a food desert is defined as, “geographic areas where residents have few to no convenient options for securing affordable and healthy foods — especially fresh fruits and vegetables.” Because food deserts are found disproportionately in regions of the US suffering from higher rates of poverty and unemployment, smaller population growth, and lower levels of education and income, they predominantly tend to affect minority communities in more urban areas. As of 2017, nearly 40 million Americans were recorded to live in food deserts, though this number is projected to have grown since the onset of the pandemic in 2020.

Currently, Thrive Lot helps to create job opportunities and generate biodiverse life and soil that contributes to people of all communities. In the near future, however, West states that he and his team intend to develop a foundation to donate a portion of of their company’s profits in order to create and manage food ecosystem projects for marginalized and underserved communities—all completely free of charge.

“Every project starts with an in-person site assessment with an agroecologist who is an expert on growing things in the local area,” West explains. “Our ecologists assess soil, sunlight, existing plants, climate patterns, wildlife patterns, and the home or lot owner’s vision to design the optimal project. Our front yard installations are mostly native perennials, and we use landscape architects to make front yards look like beautiful, lush, layered landscapes.”

Because Thrive Lot’s systems don’t resemble a traditional garden, West explains, homeowners associations (HOAs) and governments typically don’t even notice their presence. And because their team uses perennials, there is more food produced for a lifetime with less work.

As many people in underserved communities and food deserts continue reeling from the economic crisis brought about by the pandemic — one in which nearly 10% of families with young children reported having insufficient food (and insufficient resources to acquire more) — Thrive Lot’s innovative solution can prove to be a game-changer for these families by bringing access to healthy, sustainably-grown food to them and their communities.

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