• Title: Measuring Environmental Services in the Urban Food Forest Landscape
  • Principal Investigator: Cara Rockwell
  • Funding Source: US Environmental Protection Agency; US Department of Agriculture; private donors
  • Timeline: Ongoing

The modern-day Permaculture concept of the food forest is derived from biodiverse Indigenous agroecosystems, with evidence of home-based tree cultivation dating back millennia.

The ecological design of this agroforestry system is strongly rooted in the structure and diversity of a natural forest system, taking care to mimic the high diversity levels, nutrient cycling, and multiple canopy layers typically found under natural conditions (and thus, creating a “closed” system).

In recent years, urban food forests have become popular as food security projects, but these small urban “stepping stones” can also substantially increase other important ecosystem services (e.g., carbon storage, watershed protection, and cooling from increased canopy cover). Food forests are recognized as important components of urban forests, especially since they contribute to one of the primary urban forest management goals of increased species diversity. This enhancement of canopy diversity is especially evident in places like South Florida, where a rich history of Caribbean and Latin American immigration and a subtropical climate have enhanced the cultivation of tropical plant taxa.

In partnership with The Education Fund, Dr. Rockwell received funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and USDA to measure environmental services in these outdoor eco-labs, enhancing elementary school students’ interest in the natural sciences. To help support this effort, the FIU team is collecting data on the plant and insect communities in several food forests in Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

Results from the food forest projects will contribute directly to ongoing teacher workshops and our understanding of pesticide-free food production systems in this subtropical climate.

Photo by: The Education Fund
Photo by: The Education Fund
Photo by: The Education Fund
Photo by: The Education Fund

Participating Students

  • Sean Brown - Master's student in Agroecology
  • Blaire Kleiman - Master's student in Agroecology
  • Alex Crow - Field Technician, FIU Rockwell Lab
  • Érika Rocha Guimarães - Volunteer, FIU Rockwell Lab

Learn more about the students by visiting the Rockwell Lab.

Publications & Resources

  • 2020

    Food Forest Guide — this booklet serves as a resource for the support of food forest development in urban South Florida.