Beacon Food Forest: nurturing food sovereignty in the big city
By Katherine Lupo
Living in an urban center decreases one’s carbon footprint in many ways- everything from shared water and heating to more consistent use of public transportation. But living in a city is hard on one’s “food footprint”, as produce is often shipped from distant rural areas. However, a community in Seattle is fighting this problem by implementing the largest food forest, Beacon Food Forest, on public land in the country just two and a half miles from the city center.
A Food Forest mimics a natural woodland ecosystem, but substitutes the area’s natural vegetation for fruit and nut trees, berry shrubs and other edible plants. Food Forests also utilize agroecology by combining these plants with companion or beneficial plants that: attract insects for natural pest management, naturally fix nitrogen into the soil and provide mulch to preserve soil fertility. By mimicking a natural forest’s ecosystem, Food Forests provide high yields of food with less maintenance than a traditional garden/farm.
The Beacon Food Forest was envisioned in 2009, as an edible park where members of the working-class Beacon Hill community can come to forage for their own food, free of charge. Through numerous neighborhood grants the seven-acre food forest is slowly becoming a reality, with the help of a design team headed by landscape architect Margret Harrison and permaculture designer Jenny Pell. They have designed the forest to include an edible arboretum that includes fruit trees from all over the world, medicinal herbs, nut groves that provide food and shade, and numerous collective and family gardening plots that can be leased to gardeners for a mere $10 a year. The list of plants planned for the Food Forest has grown from a hundred species to over a thousand different ones as members in the multicultural community propose their favorite fruits and vegetables from their native countries.
The Beacon Food Forest just broke ground in July of 2012, but already they are seeing results. Community involvement is a key component to making this forest a success, and the Beacon Food Forest Committee is always looking for more volunteers to get involved in the project. Co-founder Glen Herlihy says that, "It's a food system being developed in a neighborhood that's looking for more self-reliance. “It's getting people together by having a common denominator: soil." Once the Food Forest has been realized they will, in addition to providing free produce to the community, offer classes to teach people about soil building, fruit tree care, seed saving, community garden stewardship and many more skills that can be utilized anywhere.
The founders of the Beacon Food Forest says, “Our goal is to design, plant and grow an edible urban forest garden that inspires our community to gather together, grow our own food and rehabilitate our local ecosystem”, and even now are fostering the next generation through kid’s programs that teach children where their food comes from and how to grow it. This sharing of knowledge empowers our children to become locally food sovereign and has the potential to greatly reduce stress on our environment and improve our health by once again intimately linking us to the food we eat.