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America's first public food forest springing forward

By Jeaneane Payne, Publisher

Seven acres of unused, sloping lawn in Seattle, Washington will become America's first public food forest, the Beacon Food Forest. The land has been held by Seattle Public Utilities for almost a century. but became open to the public after 9/11 when Seattle started to cap and cover its public reservoirs for safety reasons. After reservoirs are capped and topped with a grassy garnish, the land becomes open to the public.

This spring, the concept of permaculture will blossom in Seattle on this land. Permaculture is an ecological design system, philosophy, and set of ethics and principles used to create perennial, self-sustaining landscapes and settlements that build ecological knowledge and skills in communities. A food forest is a concept of permaculture design which is derived from wild food ecosystems in which land usually becomes forest if it is left to its own development. In a food forest, everything from the tree canopy to the roots is edible or somehow useful.

One of the acres within the Food Forest in Seattle will be a literal forest with large chestnuts and walnuts, apple and mulberry trees, berry shrubs, herbaceous plants, climbing vines, and vegetables which will be closer to the ground. It will also include an arboretum of Asian pears, Chinese haws, persimmons, and mulberries.

Included in the seven acres will be playgrounds amidst community gardening plots. A large gazebo and gathering space will provide an area for outdoor barbecuing. Native plant areas and a recreational field will consume the remaining acreage.

The idea of a food forest in Seattle came up during a group project for a permaculture design course led by Jenny Pell of Permaculture Now! The group began holding casual meetings and these led to the formation of a steering committee. A year later the group received $22,000 in funding.

To further the idea, the group mailed out thousands of postcards and had exhibits at special events. Seattle residents liked the idea and ran with it.

Since the Beacon Food Forest is the first large-scale permaculture project on public land in Seattle, there are no existing standards of guidelines to govern it or other forms of agriculture. As bureaucracy would have it, several governmental organizations now have a hand in the food forest, including the Parks Department, Water Quality, the State Department of Health, police department, and a number of others. A list of demands has now been created such as no garbage cans, no public toilets, etc. This means that, once developed, the Food Forest would have to leave at a moment's notice. Something wrong can always be found with even the most ideal project; another reason our cities are so slow to grow and our communities able to become better communities.

The Beacon Food Forest will provide education for residents, including free workshops on plant identification, crafting, and food preservations (canning, pickling, drying, etc.). Paid workshop will be offered as well.

Projects like this mean community growth, stability, and a great respect for one's city.

Published March 3, 2012

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