Forget meadows. The city’s new park will be filled with edible plants, and everything from pears to herbs will be free for the taking.
Seattle’s vision of an urban food oasis is going forward. A seven-acre plot of land in the city’s Beacon Hill neighborhood will be planted with hundreds of different kinds of edibles: walnut and chestnut trees; blueberry and raspberry bushes; fruit trees, including apples and pears; exotics like pineapple, yuzu citrus, guava, persimmons, honeyberries, and lingonberries; herbs; and more. All will be available for public plucking to anyone who wanders into the city’s first food forest.
“This is totally innovative, and has never been done before in a public park,” Margarett Harrison, lead landscape architect for the Beacon Food Forest project, tells TakePart. Harrison is working on construction and permit drawings now and expects to break ground this summer.
The concept of a food forest certainly pushes the envelope on urban agriculture and is grounded in the concept of permaculture, which means it will be perennial and self-sustaining, like a forest is in the wild. Not only is this forest Seattle’s first large-scale permaculture project, but it’s also believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.
“The concept means we consider the soils, companion plants, insects, bugs—everything will be mutually beneficial to each other,” says Harrison.
That the plan came together at all is remarkable on its own. What started as a group project for a permaculture design course ended up as a textbook example of community outreach gone right.
“Friends of the Food Forest undertook heroic outreach efforts to secure neighborhood support. The team mailed over 6,000 postcards in five different languages, tabled at events and fairs, and posted fliers,” writes Robert Mellinger for Crosscut.
Neighborhood input was so valued by the organizers, they even used translators to help Chinese residents have a voice in the planning.
She may be understating it. There is no other project of Beacon Food Forest’s scale and design on public land in the United States — a forest of food, for the people, by the people.
The idea for the Beacon Food Forest first emerged in 2009 during a group project for a permaculture design course led by Jenny Pell of Permaculture Now! From early on, the group — led by Beacon Hill gardener and sculptor Glenn Herlihy — held casual meetings with the Beacon Hill community. These led to the formation of a steering committee called Friends of the Food Forest — a team initially composed of Herlihy and two others from the permaculture class, Jacquie Cramer and Daniel Johnson. In 2010, the group secured $22,000 in Neighborhood Matching Funds from the Department of Neighborhoods.
Friends of the Food Forest undertook heroic outreach efforts to secure neighborhood support. The team mailed over 6,000 postcards in five different languages, tabled at events and fairs, and posted fliers. And Seattle residents responded. The first meeting, especially, drew permaculturalists and other intrigued parties from all around the city.
One afternoon the design team showed up on site and discovered the play fields inundated with the tents, pageantry, barbecues, and crowds of a typical afternoon of Samoan cricket playing. The design had to be revised to accommodate their short-cut up to the fields and plans were made to interview members of the Samoan community to find out what kinds of plants they would like to have along the edge BFF shares with the fields.