Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Forest of Food

By Stephanie Allen, Project Assistant.

As an avid baker and cook, I find little more satisfying than harvesting my own ingredients. I have been fortunate enough to hide out from the Wisconsin winter for the last few months in Los Angeles with friends who have a huge garden in the backyard of their Echo Park home and a neighborhood full of fruit trees (isn’t telecommuting wonderful?). I basically feel like I’m in heaven.

So, imagine my excitement when I heard about a seven-acre food forest in the works in Seattle. The Beacon Food Forest, in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, is just 2.5 miles from the heart of downtown Seattle. Developed on land owned by Seattle Public Utilities and adjacent to the neighborhood’s Jefferson Park, which is home to the neighborhood community center as well as a number of other amenities like a golf course, tennis courts, community gardens, and lawn bowling, the Forest was designed to be an oasis of fresh, quality, public food.

The Forest will feature large chestnut and walnut trees in the overstory, fruit trees in the understory, and berry shrubs, herbs, and vegetables closer to the ground. There is space set aside for community gardening plots; there are thornless edibles by the playground; and there are exotic persimmon, asian pear, and Chinese haw trees surrounding a sheltered classroom designed to host community workshops that will teach community members how to grow food and how to care for and manage the food systems in the Forest.

It’s certainly a very exciting idea for the foodie in me (Need some walnuts for your pesto? Just run down to the park. Heck, get your basil while you’re there.), but it’s even more exciting for the urban planner in me. We’ve heard a lot recently from the public health community about the necessity of fresh fruits and vegetables; of safe, walkable environments; of exercise; and of the importance of being involved in a community and how the design of our urban environments should take all of these things into account.

Well, here’s a food oasis that helps to build the community by teaching them to work together to care for it. It’s accessible; it’s full of large trees that will help alleviate air pollution, making this large park and the community surrounding it a better place to breathe; and gardening, while not the most strenuous exercise, can be very fulfilling exercise. Walking to the park every day to check on your tomatoes, now that’s a little more exercise. Talking to the gardener with a plot next to yours, that’s a great way to begin to involve yourself in a community.

This is edible landscaping writ large and it’s a huge community asset for a place looking to retain and attract creative and environmentally minded young professionals who are choosing where they want to live first and finding jobs when they get there (or, like me, bringing their job with them). I do have a friend in Seattle who has been begging me to visit… maybe I’ll head up there next month.