A new public food forest is opening over the next year in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood with fruit trees, shrubs, and other food plants that will be available to all visitors. The park will also have private gardening plots, known in Seattle as p-patches, and encourage residents to learn about permaculture. At seven acres and on city-owned land, the Beacon Food Forest will be the nation’s largest addition to urban agriculture and the local food movement.
A food forest is a gardening technique that mimics woodland ecosystems with fruit and nut trees in the upper level, and berry shrubs, and edible perennials and annuals below. The BFF started as a permaculture workshop project designed by Jacqueline Cramer, Daniel Lorenz Johnson, and two other students, and was presented at a community meeting in 2009. Glenn Herlihy, of the Jefferson Park Alliance, and others recognized the merits of the project and spearheaded efforts to work with Seattle Public Utilities and the Parks Department to make the project a reality. The BFF site is an underused grass slope between 15th Avenue and Jefferson Park; the park dates back over 100 years with oversight from the Olmstead brothers, influential landscape designers, and underwent extensive upgrades over the past two decades with help from community volunteers. The Beacon Hill neighborhood is highly diverse and active in community affairs, and this was recognized in building support for the project.
Organizers sent thousands of postcards to surrounding homes and saw increasing attendance at each outreach meeting, showing there was significant interest from residents. Funding started with a $22,000 grant from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods in 2010 to hire landscape architect Margarett Harrison and permaculture specialist Jenny Pell for creating a master plan. As a result, the Friends of Beacon Food Forest received another $100,000 grant in 2011. Phase One, which consists of two acres, is scheduled to be completed in early 2014.
Though there are concerns with vandalism and theft, the project has received nationwide news coverage and is a prominent example of the increasingly popular trends in urban agriculture. Just nearby in Federal Way, planners responded to interests in agriculture by hosting community workshops for updating zoning codes and the city’s comprehensive plan to accommodate large gardens and farming activities. Detroit is notable for its extensive urban farming projects amid abandoned buildings and vacant lots, and other cities like Chicago and New York are taking advantage of extensive rooftop acreage for gardens on top of buildings. Boston recently made progress toward rules for fish farming and bee and henkeeping.
Farmer’s markets are established in many cities, including Seattle, which provide venues for regional farmers and growers to sell directly to customers. Locally produced food certainly can’t keep up with yields of industrial agriculture, though strides have been made in hydroponics and aquaponics, but it can help spur local economies and provide more ways for people to connect, enjoy their communities, and connect with natural systems.