Maricopa County Food System Coalition Forum

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––3rd Day of Permaculture ––


stacking functions with shade tree

When considering how to best spend your time and money, you might find yourself wondering how you can “kill two birds with one stone” to be more efficient with your limited resources. When we design a permaculture system, we seek the same outcome – except instead of knocking out just two birds, why not 3, 4, or 5? This intention of efficiency is one of the principles of permaculture design: each element performs many functions. This principle is often summed up by the term “stacking functions.”


Here in the desert, nature provides us with a great biological tool that performs many functions to enhance our communities – trees! In our hot, sunny climate, one of the more obvious functions of a tree is to provide shade. This shade and cooling effect is of critical importance in our urban environment where the urban heat island effect is so prevalent.


But, shade isn’t all a tree provides! Many of our native desert trees like Mesquite and Palo Verde produce edible pods that can be harvested and milled into a flour or eaten fresh. Trees (particularly the native varieties) increase urban wildlife habitat, increase property values, conserve soil, sequester carbon, and conserve water.


Furthermore, when you place (or “stack”) mutually beneficial plants in the same space, the system can be even more fruitful. A perfect example of this is a mesquite tree guild: the mesquite canopy provides shade and protection, and as a legume the tree fixes nitrogen. The mid-story under the tree is perfect for a hackberry or wolfberry bush, which in turn creates the ideal microclimate for an understory of chiltepine or datura.


Energy efficiency provided by shade trees is just the beginning.



our growth this year

VPA has the privilege of working with Valley utility companies to provide free, desert-adapted, multi-function shade trees to single-family residences throughout Maricopa County. At events held all throughout the Valley, program participants first attend a workshop where they learn to select, plant, and properly care for their trees. Then, they take home up to 2 trees to plant near their home to reduce home energy use.


tomorrow, join us for the 4th Day of Permaculture: Designing for Mutually Beneficial Relationships


inspired by our programs? make an end-of-year donation today at

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My lil shade trees are happy, they will be big guys someday. Glad VPA partnered with SRP to bring us free shade trees! I remember someone rented a u-haul to the event because they anticipated BIG shade trees!
Hah, I remember that too!! Amazing!!!

I've also seen trees in a teeny corvette sticking out the windows!!! I've also seen them go home in a bicycle trailer. :-)

Read on about "Our Shared Resources" for the 5th Day of Permaculture!

On the 6th Day of Permaculture, we celebrate our volunteers!

On the 11th Day of Permaculture, we celebrate our lessons learned! 


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