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Institutional Development

AlgomaTrad - Ontario Canada

Algoma Trad – Dedicated to building community through music, dance, art and heritage craft traditions.

AlgomaTrad has secured substantial national and provincial funding in order to develop a year-round, environmentally sustainable centre for the sharing of traditional folk arts and skills. United Designers was brought in to create a master plan for the site that will allow them to expand their facilities, host large gatherings with a minimal footprint on the land, restore the soils and biodiversity of the site, and produce materials for their workshops in a regenerative fashion.


Maintaining and expanding the cluster of activity in the centre of the property allowed UD to regenerate marginal areas around the edges and stabilize degraded erosion gullies in the grazed fields. These areas will be protected and revegetated using low-impact water management and infiltration techniques such as check dams. Small livestock integration will yield materials for the fibre arts and can be used to improve soils when pulsed through the landscape. Perennial and annual food systems and dye plants for use during workshops will be grown in various areas – from more wild systems, to aesthetically landscaped spaces for weddings and events that can provide supplementary income thus making the centre financially sustainable.

Beloeil’s Collective Food Forest - Canada

This 700-square-meter food forest was designed and implemented after the city of Beloeil changed the street layout and created a large planting area. Wishing to offer the population more food autonomy, the city approached us to design the site. The design was carried out in the summer of 2021 and implemented in the fall with citizen participation over a period of 3 days.


The food forest will provide fruits, berries, perennial vegetables, edible flowers, medicinal plants and herbs to community members and visitors to the area. The site is connected to a small urban forest, adding to the diversity in the neighbourhood. One of the biggest challenges is drainage since the site is situated on previously compacted soil with lots of clay.


To make it a space where people can enjoy life, we added picnic tables, benches, and a pergola where grapes will grow. Near the pergola, there is a long tunnel where cold hardy kiwis will climb. There is also a composting site and a tool shed with all the equipment needed to manage the food forest.


The goals of the project are to increase citizens' food security and create an educational platform to teach an ecological approach to growing their own food. The food forest layout takes advantage of solar gain, and the main paths are wheelchair accessible.

Parsons Park Food Forest Phase 2 - Canada

This 1-acre public food forest is a collaboration between the City of Brantford and a local citizen’s group. A general layout for the full 1-acre site within Parsons Park was created, with a more detailed site plan for Phase I of the project. Breaking up the food forest into three phases ensures that each phase is well-established and relatively self-sufficient before the next phase is begun. For the success of public projects, it is absolutely crucial that there is sufficient community engagement and support for the long-term care and maintenance of the site. The Parsons Park Food Forest will provide perennial fruits, nuts, berries, vegetables and herbs for community members to enjoy. The goals of the project are to increase food security for the City of Brantford, increase tree canopy coverage, and provide barrier-free access.


The 1-acre project is divided into three phases that can be implemented over time. Each phase can stand alone so that the project will still seem complete if subsequent phases do not come to fruition. Phase I is focused on gleaning foods, while subsequent phases will include foods that are well suited to food preservation so that as the community skill level increases they are able to utilize the harvest in multiple ways. Signage for the public to easily identify and harvest plants will be installed. Native plants are used heavily as supporting guild vegetation for fruit and nut trees and are all edible and or medicinal as well.


The food forest layout takes advantage of solar gain and passive water harvesting from the
slight topography of the land. Support for cultivar selection, plant acquisition, and community planting days has been provided for Phase I.

Parsons Park Food Forest Phase 1 - Canada

This 1-acre public food forest is a collaboration between the City of Brantford and a local citizen’s group. A general layout for the full 1-acre site within Parsons Park was created, with a more detailed site plan for Phase I of the project. Breaking up the food forest into three phases ensures that each phase is well-established and relatively self-sufficient before the next phase is begun. For the success of public projects, it is absolutely crucial that there is sufficient community engagement and support for the long-term care and maintenance of the site. The Parsons Park Food Forest will provide perennial fruits, nuts, berries, vegetables and herbs for community members to enjoy. The goals of the project are to increase food security for the City of Brantford, increase tree canopy coverage, and provide barrier-free access.


The 1-acre project is divided into three phases that can be implemented over time. Each phase can stand alone so that the project will still seem complete if subsequent phases do not come to fruition. Phase I is focused on gleaning foods, while subsequent phases will include foods that are well suited to food preservation so that as the community skill level increases they are able to utilize the harvest in multiple ways. Signage for the public to easily identify and harvest plants will be installed. Native plants are used heavily as supporting guild vegetation for fruit and nut trees and are all edible and or medicinal as well.


The food forest layout takes advantage of solar gain and passive water harvesting from the
slight topography of the land. Support for cultivar selection, plant acquisition, and community planting days has been provided for Phase I.

Upper Post Veterans Farm - USA

One of the ways to recycle resources is to repurpose whatever that item might be for a new purpose. Instead of sending things into landfills or waiting until there is not a choice except for the expensive relocation of materials for deconstruction, planning for the reuse of equipment or supplies begins prior to their purchase. Loss of land to residential development is terminal. Once the infrastructure is laid and the houses are built with concrete foundations, that land can likely never be used for anything else again. Few developments were anything but a farm field in their history. Golf courses many times were also farm fields that were turned into a very large recreational space for leisure activities. An extreme number of golf courses at this time had been losing money and closing. Transitioning these golf courses to a farm is seen by many as a waste of land. What they forget is, a golf course was originally a farm. It was producing crops for people, grazing for beef or dairy, or even possibly a wetland filled for the purposes of fairways.


This present design is our transition plan taking a closed golf course near a VA Hospital and turning it into a residential agrarian community for disabled veterans. It would be transitional housing. It would have therapy by animals and by farm activities. It has a health and physical therapy facility. Primarily the purpose of this farm is to relieve the stress on disabled veterans and allow them to transition their lives be fruitful and fulfilling. 

A small section of the land is a training farm for on-site and off-site participants. Once trained those new farmers go on to work in the production fields of the farm with livestock, a nursery, greenhouses, field crops, syllable pasture, and also caring for the landscape of the residential area. 


The firm also supplies food to the local community and contributes to the economic development of small businesses. With the fragmentation of the food supply system in the United States, intensive small production farms creating high-value crops for the local community also contribute to the local economy. It renews the purpose of the land to serve a multitude of people rather than a privileged few.

Farm and Table Restaurant - USA

It is an incredible joy to work with people who want to combine the love of growing vegetables and cooking those harvests for in their restaurant. A number of times we have been asked to help design the landscape that surrounds a restaurant or help design the farm that supplies the food. Each time this is done, care is taken to blend the needs of the chefs in the cuisine offered with what the land can provide.


At this particular restaurant in Albuquerque, the adjacent farm fields and growing spaces were a common after-dinner stroll for the guests. They could see from their table the high tunnel of growing greens, onions, and tomatoes. Fruiting trees and shrubs line the perimeter and the edges of the parking lot. 


During the summer solstice the sunsets directly down the fields shining into the dining room. A short walk takes the guests to an outdoor theatre for weekly plays and works by local artists. The restaurant is now turned into a destination, a place of contemplation, and frequented multiple times a week by patrons. 


Behind-the-scenes, compost piles create more soil and cycle nutrients from the kitchens back into the growing zones. Farmers have trays of starters for transplanting the next crop. Although not all of the food can be produced on the site, of course, the ingredients that are bring premium quality to the restaurant and appreciation from the guests. Aside from the obvious foods prepared for the guests, they are also exposed to the possibility of food production on a scale that they themselves see possible.  A community demonstration pleasing to all the senses while also delivering nutrients for health.

Zaytuna College Campus - USA

The Zaytuna College campus sits High above the San Francisco Bay in Berkeley California. This area is called seminary Hill, home to seminaries of many different faith communities. Recently purchased, the designated site for us to work on was bare, desolate, and exposed to extreme weather. Our goal for the site was to build a gathering place and student garden area surrounded by culturally appropriate trees and shrubs.

Together with Rhamis Kent, permaculture designer from the United Kingdom, we developed a welcoming and ecologically supported food production system surrounding one of the large campus buildings. Rhamis defined the raised beds to be reminiscent of cultural patterns in the Middle East. We used this interlocking hexagon pattern to create a multi-level and multiuse garden space.


We developed the raised bed design and structures to have benches, multi-level heights, and variable soil depth. This allowed for shade trees and shrubs to be incorporated with annual garden plants. It was decided to build large living walls on the west and south aspect of the building to hide the rather nondescript architecture and also add a cooling effect from the shade and resulting transpiration.

Dieng Foundation demonstration farm - Senegal

This part of Senegal is in the Sahel, the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. Each year the dry sands extend further into the agricultural lands.  Our task was to build water conservation and soil protection practices into the production methods. New tree crops in windbreaks and cover crops around all plantings deter erosion and reduce soil temperature. Fencing was added around the entire farm to keep out free-ranging goats. This alone had immediate benefits. An expansive caged chicken operation was shut down and the building repurposed for classrooms and offices. In 2018 we developed and delivered a farmer conference to 30 farmers and residents of Kebemer, Senegal. 


Using the farm as a model the course focused on:


  • Climate change the recent changes in land production.

  • Soil health and its response to higher temperatures.

  • Mulching practices and its effect on soil moisture

  • Cover crops and the importance of organic materials

  • Improved drip irrigation methods to conserve water

Hope and Care for Children - Liberia

Just recently the orphanage for open care for children was flooded out in another part of Liberia. The non-profit moved the orphanage to another area and built new dormitories and classrooms. This new land was also in a floodplain, but less likely to have severe damage. United Designers had to incorporate flood management and use as much of the relatively dry land for food production and education. 


Expansion of the buildings to provide services was also taking up more land, so we had to be extremely efficient on how we used the land and have an integrated system with the rest of the architecture. The orphanage services 200 students while housing 20 permanent residents. Activity areas for outdoor Sports and functions are extremely important, thus managing the space requires reserving adequate production plots while providing outdoor spaces. 


Planted berms were incorporated along the outer perimeter of the property towards the river to deter small flooding events. Trees and shrubs along the riverside to increase the amount of silt deposited during the flood times and raise the soil level. Large scale floods would raise the grade of the soil allowing for further protection from smaller flooding events.   


Features on the landscape for the orphanage included:

  • Biomass production area for soil amendments

  • Food production areas for daily vegetables and grains.

  • Orphanage gardens for the education

  • Banana and Citrus Grove

  • Perennial gardens near buildings for security and drainage

  • Cashew and rubber trees to cool south side of buildings.

  • Composting Area

  • Biogas Production Area.

  • Root crop and onion planting area.

  • Swale and berm elevated areas for water management.

  • Managed entrance areas, parking, and student activity spaces.

  • Additional perimeter tree areas.

Gratia Plena Farm - USA

The culture of the Gratia Plena farm is based on stewardship. It is a culture of health, balance and beauty, and the opportunity for those who visit and attend, to reap the healthful benefits and the possibility to learn new skills to enhance their lives. Gratia Plena consists of 160 acres sloping pasture and croplands, forests, streambeds, and steep wooded terrain. 2015 was an important year for building retrofits, and to begin to delineate and implement, first and foremost, the agricultural areas central to the farm’s many operations. This was the first step: food production in all its many guises, plant systems and animal husbandry dominates the practices and thus the care for the soil. Expanded operations include a community market, lodging facilities, training programs and demonstrations. 


Features of the new Gratia Plena design:

  • Rotational Grazing paddocks across the wider property.

  • Broadscale berm and swale systems to infiltrate heavy rains and spring run-off.

  • Redefined roadway systems for access to expanded residential areas.

  • Constructed wetland for sedimentation and clean run-off from livestock paddocks.

  • Contour orchards integrated with poultry and goat management.

  • Expanded compost and wood material storage near entrances (for delivery).

  • Fruiting trees and shrubs throughout the property.

  • Burr Oak and Swap White oak are planted to restore the long term canopy.

  • Mushroom production areas are added to woodlands.

  • Hog shelters are moved for managing overgrown areas. 

  • An extensive irrigation system was installed on all pasture lands.

  • Plantings, fruiting trees and shrubs surround each residence.

IHP Foundation - USA

As you enter the IHP foundation farm and cross past the dry-stacked stone walls, you see the Heirloom Grove (a zone two area) on your right. The Heirloom Grove consists of transplanted and grafted species of fruiting trees and shrubs that have been taken from other properties under development. Many of these trees would have been cut down after decades of growth on old farms and homesteads.


East and west of the arena are trellised hillsides. The east-facing slope creates an opportunity for cool morning moisture and sun exposure for vine crops. The intention of these trellises is for conserving heirloom cultivars of grapes. Modern varieties will also be displayed with the emphasis being for cultivars from Cornell University and the University of Minnesota. Both of these institutions have developed resilient grapes for production. Virginia has a large vineyard industry and a long history of grape production.


The IHP Foundation Conservation Orchard is an extension of the Heirloom Grove as it transitions into the indigenous meadow below. This space is filled with insectary islands and pollinator plants. It focuses more on the habitat and beauty of an expansive and free-flowing structure of fruiting trees and shrubs working with nature's many ecological services. 


As we travel east into the property we cross into a more spacious and grassy Indigenous Meadow environment. Native “savannah” canopy trees and understory plants fill the centre of the meadow of tall grasses. Various species of bunch grasses and prairie perennials fill this space. In the far east point, dense grasses are planted for protection and habitat of nesting birds. The perimeter of this indigenous meadow is mowed as pasture. This helps keep predators and mammals at a distance from the protected areas. 


Finally, in this southern section, we have an exclusively protected area for songbirds and pollinator insects. Tall shrubs screen the road and pasture from this area as trees and perennials create a cool and protected sanctuary of habitat. Visitors enter the loop path from the hidden east entrance of the paddock access fence. Broad-leaved plants, tall grasses, shrubs and columnar trees create a natural bowl of seclusion.  From this area, generations of life emerge and find protection in extreme weather.

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