In the heart of Seattle, a public park is planned like no other: an urban food forest that is free for the plucking!
Due to its mild temperatures and routinely wet climate, Seattle is one of the very few cities in the US with a year-round growing season. Taking advantage of this vegetation-friendly environment, and a seven acre plot of public land, a community of local planners and advocates are moving forward with plans to build the first, completely free, public food forest in a U.S. city (or perhaps anywhere in the country
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, honey berries and lingonberries; herbs; and more. All will be available for public plucking to anyone who wanders into the city’s first food forest.
One other special feature of the Beacon Food Forest: it will be 100 % organic — no genetically modified (GM) plants whatsoever.
“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. Harrison is working on construction and permit drawings now and expects to break ground this summer.
The basic concept is perhaps inspired by two modern trends in urban agriculture: various urban harvest projects, in which fruit from city trees is collected and exchanged/distributed (before it goes to waste on the streets), and permaculture, which seeks to develop perennial and sustainable agricultural plots that are more akin to wild/natural counterparts, like forests.
The original idea for such an urban forest grew out of a permaculture design course group project. From there, it garnered even more momentum with the formation of a community-based organization called Friends of the Food Forest.
The organization then began a major public outreach campaign — mailing out thousands of postcards (in five languages), posted fliers and promoted its idea at fairs and other local events. Key to the successful outreach was encouraging input from throughout the neighborhood (including its Chinese community).
There were initial concerns over who gets to pick the food, and how much edible fruit one person might pick or harvest for herself. Harrison and others concede that it is possible the one or two people could come along and harvest all the blueberries…But they note that perhaps such a person will have need of the berries, and, from the viewpoint of the planners, it would be far worse if any of the food went to waste. If all the fruit and berries were harvested, then in the eyes of the forest planners, this would be a complete success.