Seattle has had a thriving community garden scene since the 1970s, when the P-Patch program first opened up city land to gardeners. With the recent planting of the Beacon Food Forest, however, the trend is reaching new heights. Read on to see how food forest permaculture gardening is changing the face of urban agriculture in this great city.
“A food forest is a gardening technique or land management system, which mimics a woodland ecosystem by substituting edible trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals,” writes Beacon Food Forest co-founder Glenn Herlihy. In other words, this community garden will produce food in the canopy, at the shrub level, in the shady understory, and even from vines that twine their way through the edible jungle.
Food forestry is a concept borrowed from permaculture design; a holistic approach to developing human settlements where gardens, homes and neighborhoods are patterned on the principles of ecology. The intent is that the resources necessary to sustain each of these are produced within a self-contained system.
“Food forests are designed to take care of themselves once they are established, like any naturally occurring forest,” says Melody Wainscott, Beacon Food Forest’s media coordinator. That means minimal watering, weeding or fertilizing—aspects of conventional food production practices that consume a large share of the earth’s resources.
It will be several years before many of the newly planted fruit and nut trees begin to bear, but that’s ok with the Beacon Food Forest team. In the interim, they are busy growing their community and from the hundred-plus folks who have been turning out at recent work parties, it looks like their message is striking a chord.
“We are in a period where the community must demonstrate the ability to maintain the food forest through a few seasons,” says Wainscott. The City of Seattle, who owns the two acres now occupied by the food forest, is set to open up another five acres of adjacent land once the concept has proved itself, for which the volunteer support is crucial.
Part of the unique beauty of a food forest is its longevity—the fruit and nut trees that comprise them often outlive those who plant them. Beacon Food Forest has the noble distinction of being the first public planting of its type in the nation, but the idea is already catching on elsewhere. Helena, Montana; Austin, Texas; London, England and other cities around the globe now have plans in their works for their own versions.
“We hope the Beacon Food Forest can be a model of successful, community-powered food forestry for now and future generations, says Wainscott.” Without a doubt, the ideas growing on Seattle’s Beacon Hill have begun to capture the spirit of the current generation—and it seems likely that the presence of a mature food forest will be a cause of inspiration for generations to come.
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