ST. LOUIS — We're living in a time when we're seeing food deserts and more people having a hard time affording their next meal, but there seems to be an effort to change the food landscape at our homes, schools and beyond.
A different type of landscaping is popping up at homes and institutions across St. Louis.
"We want more people to see the outdoors as a place for interaction and not just a place that they're going to just go mow the grass," said Matt Lebon, founder of Custom Foodscaping.
Lebon is on a mission to turn landscapes into foodscapes. Foodscapes are different than gardens because they won't require a lot of maintenance.
"These are systems and plants that every year after you plant them, they get stronger and more productive over time," said Lebon. "There's less work needed over time. So it's this great balance."
A typical Missouri foodscape might include mint, pawpaws, strawberries, apples, pears or persimmons. Custom Foodscapes built an orchard on the Principia School campus five years ago, and this year the fruits of their labor are blooming stronger than ever.
It's low maintenance for a high yield -- growing native plants keeps disease and pests at bay and perennials grow back every year. Even strategic planting utilizes rainwater better.
"Just the exposure that it provides students is so powerful to new flavors and new principles," said Lynne Scott, Principia's sustainability and biology teacher. "It really provides rich learning at all levels."
Lebon says that drives him to keep spreading the joy of foodscaping -- not only to provide a connection to the food we eat but to get more people to see the benefits.
"That's the reason that we do this work so that people will engage and have what we like to call magical food moments," said Lebon.
Lebon has been part of a lot of magical food moments for St. Louisans. Before he branched out on his own, he led the Earthdance Organic Farm School in Ferguson, which now has a pay-what-you-can food stand and works with area school kids. Lebon knows the connection with food is both magical and practical, and he'd like to see that grow.
"There's so much education needed for a business like this to grow, but every year we're adding people," said Lebon. "That's really encouraging because we're really excited about more livelihoods of people getting to work with the land, helping people create food, producing landscapes."
Custom Foodscapes has created more community and edible spaces for places like the YMCA in Wildwood, the North County Agricultural Education Center and even restaurants.