Seattle to Create Nation's First Public Food Forest

plum tree with fruit

In the heart of Seattle, a public park is planned like no other: an urban food forest that is free for the plucking!

Due to its mild temperatures and routinely wet climate, Seattle is one of the very few cities in the US with a year-round growing season. Taking advantage of this vegetation-friendly environment, and a seven acre plot of public land, a community of local planners and advocates are moving forward with plans to build the first, completely free, public food forest in a U.S. city (or perhaps anywhere in the country — see the comments following this post).

The proposed forest will be planted with hundreds of varieties of edible plants, herbs, berry bushes (such as honeyberries, mulberries and lingonberries) and fruit trees, including apple, persimmon, pear, plum and perhaps some exotics such as pineapple, yuzu citus and guava. And all of it will be available free for the plucking to anyone who happens to walk through the soon-to-be-planted public forest in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood.

One other special feature of the Beacon Food Forest: it will be 100 % organic — no genetically modified (GM) plants whatsoever.

The basic concept is perhaps inspired by two modern trends in urban agriculture: various urban harvest projects, in which fruit from city trees is collected and exchanged/distributed (before it goes to waste on the streets), and permaculture, which seeks to develop perennial and sustainable agricultural plots that are more akin to wild/natural counterparts, like forests.

In a recent interview with the website, lead landscape architect for the Beacon Food Forest project, Margaret Harrison stated:

“This is totally innovative, and has never been done before in a public park. The concept means we consider the soils, companion plants, insects, bugs—everything will be mutually beneficial to each other.”

The original idea for such an urban forest grew out of a permaculture design course group project. From there, it garnered even more momentum with the formation of a community-based organization called Friends of the Food Forest.

The organization then began a major public outreach campaign — mailing out thousands of postcards (in five languages), posted fliers and promoted its idea at fairs and other local events. Key to the successful outreach was encouraging input from throughout the neighborhood (including its Chinese community).

There were initial concerns over who gets to pick the food, and how much edible fruit one person might pick or harvest for herself. Harrison and others concede that it is possible the one or two people could come along and harvest all the blueberries…But they note that perhaps such a person will have need of the berries, and, from the viewpoint of the planners, it would be far worse if any of the food went to waste. If all the fruit and berries were harvested, then in the eyes of the forest planners, this would be a complete success.

The Beacon Food Forest will break ground this coming summer, 2012.

Author Comment:  (erratum: no pineapple or guava will be grown in the forest; see comments below) I have seen this coming for quite some time, and I am quite happy that suitable land was found and that the idea is coming to “fruition”. I suspect, once the forest is established, and is “tried out”, a public use policy will develop regarding total harvesting by any one person, and may involve restricted trail access (no large vehicles, etc). Plus, as it will be a public park, camping out over-night would be prohibited. All in all, this represents a wise and wonderful trend (let’s hope) in urban agriculture

Top photo: Fir0002 ; Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0

8 thoughts on “Seattle to Create Nation's First Public Food Forest”

  1. Just love how progressive Your city is. One day I will live there! You really take to heart what community is all about.
    Thanks for the forest to come!

    Annabananna of Arizona

  2. I am the permaculture designer for this project – great to see the article here! I believe Margarett was mis-quoted – there is a fruit called pineapple guava that periodically fruits here. It’s also called feijoa- a delicious fruit and beautiful shrub. That said, we have not planned for any of those exotics to be in the design, since we have so many other amazing reliable choices. Mulberries do great here, and some persimmons too! No GMO, and all organic!! Also, we know of lots of other food forests, but this project may well be the largest (7 acres) on public land.

  3. Having lived a number of years in Seattle, I can tell you that tropical fruits, like pineapple, will not grow there unless they are in a heated greenhouse.

    1. cre811

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, when I read that this “exotic” was planned for planting, I was a bit skeptical, but went with the straight reporting of the plans (as mentioned in the source linked article). There may be cultivars of pineapple that can grow outdoors in Seattle….anyone out there know if this is true?

      UPDATE: I recently heard form one of the organizers of the permaculture course (Kelda Miller), and she confirmed that pineapple was NOT being grown in the Food Forest (but other suitable exotics would be).

  4. Asheville NC has a public park food forest, free harvest for anyone. I’m not sure how long it’s been there, but I’ve lived here since 2007 and the trees were pretty big even then.

    1. Mareena

      Thanks for your comment.

      I was not aware (and I dare say most are not aware) of the Asheville NC Food Forest. Is this a completely food-dedicated forest? Or, is is a component of a larger conservation area? That may make the distinction.

      The post’s title reflects the organizers’ few that they were unaware of any other project like like it, so, perhaps “may be nation’s first food forest” would have been more apt.

      Thanks for informing me about this; my preliminary web search did not turn up this result. Had a feeling that somewhere, there was a similar project.

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