Neighborhood Urban Farming Project Builds Nation's First Public Food Forest

By Lisa Battles on June 26, 2013 at 8:31 am CDT
People will soon be able to harvest a wide variety of fruits, nuts and vegetables at the Beacon Hill Food Forest in Seattle. Within the next year, people will be able to visit the Beacon Hill Food Forest in  Seattle to harvest a wide variety of fruits, nuts and vegetables.

Hearing about the nation's first free, public food forest growing in Seattle's Beacon Hill neighborhood has me recalling Willy Wonka strolling through his factory's entirely edible Chocolate Room, stopping every few feet to grab a snack from a tree and singing "Pure Imagination."

Yet the dream became reality for planners behind Beacon Food Forest. They expect that over the next year, this large-scale urban farming project will begin producing food that's free for the taking.

Seeds sprouted for the idea in 2009 when a four-member design team presented it as a final project for a Permaculture Design Course. The Friends of Beacon Food Forest organization quickly grew from the project's initial design team. So far, to move forward with Phase 1 of the eventual 7-acre site, project supporters have secured approximately $206,000 in grant funding from the City of Seattle's Department of Neighborhoods, plus private cash donations and countless volunteer hours from residents throughout the city.  Seattle Public Utilities donated the land, which is adjacent to Jefferson Park and less than three miles from the city center. Learn more about the project's history on the City of Seattle website.

It will be years before the project's supporters develop the forest to its full size, but it is already fulfilling the first part of its mission and goals: "To design, plant and grow an edible urban forest garden that inspires [the] community to gather together, grow [its] own food and rehabilitate [the] local ecosystem in order to improve public health, reduce climate impact and improve the security of [the] food supply."

Volunteer turnout at "work parties" proves the project definitely inspires people to act: Residents from more than 23 different zip codes turned out this February to prepare a section of the property to build the Fruit and Nut Tree Groves. Although the project is located within a specific community of the city, clearly residents from other areas perceive benefits accessible to them.

Once the forest opens, planners hope people will be considerate foragers and take only what they need – so much like the world of Willy Wonka, there's implied intolerance for greedy "Augustus Gloops." No word yet on who will be the Oompa Loompas monitoring that situation, but the hope is it won't be needed.

Meanwhile, the world is watching to see if the project realizes the rest of its mission and attains its goals. Friends of Beacon Forest partnered with InterChange Media for a video shown at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012.

This project may provide a model that groups of people may use in their own big-city neighborhoods or to serve smaller cities.

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