On Sept. 11, 2001, Justin Rohner and his wife, Britney, bought their first house. But the events of that day tarnished the experience and made them feel vulnerable. “It didn’t feel safe,” Rohner says. “Nothing felt safe.”
The couple wanted to put in a vegetable garden — a way to provide them with comfort and food security in an uncertain time. However, the new house was part of a very strict home owner’s association, and the group wasn’t keen on them growing food in the front yard.
“I wanted to find a way to still grow food where, not only would they be OK with it, they’d actually like it,” Rohner says. He wanted a way for the food to be part of the landscape, instead of just a square garden in the center of the yard.
And the idea for Agriscaping was born. The company, based in Gilbert, Ariz., now offers technology and education on edible landscapes for both contractors and homeowners.
“In 2009, I started teaching at local nurseries in the Phoenix area,” Rohner says. “That’s when we started realizing this isn’t just a thing for me. People really want to grow more food and grow it more elegantly so they can do it where they live and not look like a farm.”
Rohner and his team were given the opportunity to install edible gardens in a local municipality’s firehouses in 2013, but the municipality couldn’t release a request for proposal because Agriscaping was the only company to submit a bid, and rules state the municipality has to receive multiple bids before accepting one. The incident sparked the company to make a shift in its setup.
Instead of making their own bids and installing landscapes, Agriscaping now helps other companies learn and execute the process by training and certifying them.
“Business and demand is growing, but we need pros to send that business to,” he says.
Landscapers can apply to the online training programs, and the company can connect them to new work.
“Right now, we’ve got pros that are training or are trained in 24 states,” Rohner says, adding that people in France, Mexico and Canada have also signed up. Several hundred landscapers have been through the program, with thousands more signing up for the company’s free webinar series.
Tylee Sewell, owner and designer at Tasty Spaces, has been working with the Agriscaping team and is currently enrolled in the online training class Rohner offers.
She says the designs give homes curb appeal and make the landscapes eye-catching, but also provide more than that.
“It uses the element of making it beautiful, but you’re using edible foods,” she says.
Sewell says she was drawn to the idea because it gets people outside more and helps them understand where food comes from.
It also gives homeowners the opportunity to make their landscapes profitable, Rohner says.
“People are actually making money off their yard because of the extra food they’ve got,” Rohner says. “Now we have another network system set up so they can sign up and sell their excess production.”
The company has an app that provides planting and harvesting directions.
“We’ve been researching microclimates and standardizing them into six different microclimates,” Rohner says.
Using that information, homeowners and landscapers will know what works best for each part of the yard, especially since one yard can be made up of multiple microclimates, depending on sun exposure.
This year, the Agriscaping app will be updated to include more information on microclimates, as well as a direct link to locally certified pros for homeowners who have questions.
Agriscaping has partnered with Ewing Landscape Materials, as well as Mother Earth News and the Grow Network. “Between those three organizations, the new app will be able to open up to more professionals,” Rohner says.
In an effort to attract more professionals in each state, Agriscaping will be doing tours in the spring to launch the app on a larger scale and make the technology available to more people across the country.
The company has also been working with chefs.
“They’ve been creating these great recipes on seasonal foods,” Rohner says. “The app will know what’s supposed to [be] harvested soon and it’ll give you recipe suggestions.”