It’s Not a Fairytale: Seattle to Build Nation’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.
So just who gets to harvest all that low-hanging fruit when the time comes?
“Anyone and everyone,” says Harrison. “There was major discussion about it. People worried, ‘What if someone comes and takes all the blueberries?’ That could very well happen, but maybe someone needed those blueberries. We look at it this way—if we have none at the end of blueberry season, then it means we’re successful.”
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In the Beacon Hill community of Seattle a revolutionary community garden is being developed to feed her people. The Beacon Food Forest is transforming a previously unused piece of public land into a vibrant food forest filled with hundreds of different varieties of edible plants, fruits and nuts. The seven acre plot uses perennial crops and sustainable methods rooted in permaculture to create a source of food available to all.
The seeds of the project were planted in a permaculture design course in 2009 and quickly sprouted into the Friends of the Food Forest group. Their efforts to involve the neighborhood and their outreach for feedback and support are highly noteworthy. The friends distributed 6000 postcards in five different languages, attended local fairs and held design meetings for input from the public as well as hiring an interpreter for certain members of the Chinese community.
The project met many obstacles within the system; from confusion over who actually owned the land, to restrictions on roofed structures for meetings and educational purposes, to consultations with invested stakeholders like the police department. The insecurity and reluctance shown by the public departments of the city only slowed down the project for a moment. The not-for profit community gardens group P-Patch became the organising entity — they paid for the design of the Beacon Food Forest, ensuring the project would go ahead .
The final vision of the food forest — professionally designed by Margret Harrison and Jenny Pell — is at top.
Robert Mellinger from crosscut.com who has excellently chronicled the journey of the Beacon Food Forest spoke to designer Jenny Pell who said:
If Seattle could provide five percent of its food from within the city, that would be more than almost any other city in the world. Even places that are really committed get less than 1 percent. Can you imagine what the city would be like if 10 percent of the food came from the city?
Margret Harrison spoke with takepart.com, and she said:
The concept means we consider the soils, companion plants, insects, bugs — everything will be mutually beneficial to each other.
The creation of the food forest has not been an easy process, but it has plotted the course and identified the obstacles you could encounter along the way. As Mellinger so astutely put it, while millions of dollars of our money is pumped out in the concrete industrialisation of our planet, projects like the Beacon Food Forest which are seeking to improve the quality of life and generally increase the happiness of all in their community are, “crushed by bureaucracy before they even begin.”
The lessons to take from the Seattle food forest is the value and necessity of persistence when dealing with a system that is inherently inflexible with the use of its public lands. Hopefully this project’s success will offer inspiration for others to transform unused and abandoned public spaces.