City Planning Plum_tree_with_fruit_600

Published on February 25th, 2012 | by Michael Ricciardi

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Seattle to Create Nation’s First Public Food Forest

plum tree with fruit

In the heart of Seattle, a public park is planned like no other — an urban food forest that is free for the plucking.

With its mild temperatures and moist climate, Seattle is taking advantage of its vegetation-friendly environment. 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.

The proposed forest will be planted with hundreds of varieties of edible plants, herbs, berry bushes (such as honeyberries, mulberries and lingonberries) and fruit trees, including apple, persimmon, pear, plum and perhaps a few ‘exotics’ such as pineapple, yuzu citus and guava. And all of it will be available free for the plucking to anyone who happens to walk through the soon-to-be-planted public forest in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood.

One other special feature of the proposed forest: it will be 100% organic — no genetically modified (GM) plants whatsoever.

The basic concept is perhaps inspired by two modern trends in urban agriculture: various urban harvest projects, in which seasonal fruit from city trees is collected and exchanged/distributed before it goes to waste on the streets, as well as permaculture, which seeks to develop perennial and sustainable agricultural plots that are more akin to wild/natural counterparts.

In a recent interview with the website takepart.com, lead landscape architect for the Beacon Food Forest project, Margaret Harrison stated:

“This is totally innovative, and has never been done before in a public park. The concept means we consider the soils, companion plants, insects, bugs — everything will be mutually beneficial to each other.”

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.

There were initial concerns over who gets to pick the food, and how much edible fruit; for example, 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.

Author Comment – (erratum: no pineapple or guava will grown in the forest; see comments below) I have seen this coming for quite some time, and I am quite happy that suitable land was found and that the idea is coming to “fruition”. All in all, this represents a wise and wonderful trend in urban agriculture. The Beacon Food Forest will break ground this coming summer, 2012.

Top photo: Fir0002 ; Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0

 




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About the Author

Michael Ricciardi is a well-published writer of science/nature/technology articles as well as essays, poetry and short fiction. Michael has interviewed dozen of scientists from many scientific fields, including Brain Greene, Paul Steinhardt, Arthur Shapiro, and Nobel Laureate Ilya Progogine (deceased). Michael was trained as a naturalist and taught ecology and natural science on Cape Cod, Mass. from 1986-1991. His first arts grant was for production of the environmental (video) documentary 'The Jones River - A Natural History', 1987-88 (Kingston, Mass.). Michael is an award winning, internationally screened video artist. Two of his more recent short videos; 'A Time of Water Bountiful' and 'My Name is HAM' (an "imagined memoir" about the first chimp in space), and several other short videos, can be viewed on his website (http://www.chaosmosis.net). He is also the author of the (Kindle) ebook: Artful Survival ~ Creative Options for Chaotic Times



  • http://divinearthgp.com Kelda Miller

    Thanks Michael for carrying this story! I was one of the teachers at the Permaculture course that originally hatched this project idea, and it’s been such a thrill to see it reach this stage of notoriety. One thing to clear up though, pineapple is unfortunately not on the list of achievable crops for the Seattle area (!), but yes yes on many others, honeyberry, lingonberry, nitrogen fixers, lots of edible native berries, etc.
    And you’re quite right that this will be a new kind of garden. Though most community gardens in the Puget Sound area are organic, they don’t get into the year-round diversity, self-seeding, perennial, soil-building abundance that the folks at Beacon Food Forest will be able to play with. It will be great to see it in a public demonstration project!
    If anyone is interested in learning more about food forests or permaculture, myself and Jenny Pell (one of the BFF designers) and others are organizing a Permaculture course this June on Camano Island. More info here: http://shambalafarm.com

    • http://www.chaosmosis.net Michael Ricciardi

      Thanks Kelda for the corrections and laying to rest the question some readers had about ‘exotics” being grown in the food forest. Also good to hear about the all organic approach!

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