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A Forest of Food in the Center of Seattle


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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.

3 Comments

  1. So inspired and invigorated to see that there are people in the world looking for the work the needs doing, rather than being robots looking for a job and a wage.

  2. Yay for the Beacon Food Forest team! As for the question of exact varietals, I can’t find much about the latest design online, but from talks/conversations with Jenny Pell it will have many standard fruits as well as medlars, aronias, nitrogen-fixers. and then a big smattering of our native berry plants. I bet there’ll be more online info as they get closer to implementation.

    I was one of the instructors in the Permaculture class that hatched this design. If anyone is interested in an upcoming Permaculture course in Washington State with Jenny Pell, myself, and others, you’ll find more info here: https://shambalafarm.com

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