Food Forest project feeds, educates and connects community members

food forest seating area

The Beacon Hill Food Forest is a local Seattle project that focuses on permaculture education, sustainability and community building. It is located in Jefferson Park in Seattle and is made up of a volunteer managed and intricately designed public garden as well as individual plots known as “P-Patches.”

P-Patches are common in Seattle and are areas of land that allows people to garden even if they don’t have the space on their own property. Waiting lists can be long for the 88 P-Patches within city limits that contribute tens of thousands of pounds of produce to local food banks, according to www.seattle.gov.

What makes the food forest different is the section of it built to create its own ecosystem. A food forest is defined as “a gardening technique or land management system, which mimics a woodland ecosystem by substituting edible trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals” on the space’s website.

Food forest seating area - c

Permaculture design students created it to have a positive relationship between each species of plant life and to contribute positively to the surrounding environment. Wood chip paths wind between a mix of shrubbery, small fruit trees and low growing groundcover. Labels identify each plant and provide some details about what parts are edible.

The food forest portion is open to the public and is intended to build “a community around sharing food with the public” in order to be “inclusive to all in need of food.” This means that some of the produce could go to local food banks or be an opportunity for its neighbors to make healthy additions to their diets. Since it is open and volunteer run, the whole crop could also wander into the mouths of passersby and not necessarily those most in need. Sharing freshly picked fruit and nature’s treats together could be a community building element as well, which would still follow the site’s mission.

Food forest people in garden - c

The food forest’s growth and progression is monitored by a steering committee that has meetings one to two times per month. Open events like work parties and community work days are available for anyone who wants to volunteer. If one wants to get more involved, stewardship classes and volunteer workshops can get people acclimated to the workflow.

A gazebo graces the upper corner of the space and makes a meeting place for many community events. The Food Forest is host to a variety of educational opportunities to learn gardening tips, herbal remedies and more. On May 22 for example, the urban farm hosted an opportunity to learn about medicinal plants of the food forest, including identification, how and when to harvest them and their uses. It was lead by herbalist and medicine maker Natalie Hammerquist of Rainbow Natural Remedies.

Upcoming workshops include Herbalism 101 on June 5 and Food Forest Explorers Summer Camp on June 18. Also the 18th will be a work party that allows any interested volunteer to help the food forest grow.

One aspect of the project that has been important to its creators is accessibility by a variety of cultural groups that make up the majority of the surrounding neighborhood. The website and signs throughout the space are all easily translated into the major languages in the area.

Jefferson Park was built on the site of two open reservoirs. One is now a lidded reservoir covered by a large grassy area where some kind of sport always seems to be happening.

From the flat playfields, the hill slants down towards the I-5 entrance in a steep grassy slope. The food forest is nestled on the south end of this previously empty expanse the size of a few city blocks. It makes a welcome addition and gives purpose to the curving path along the base edge of the park that leads from the more busily enjoyed playground.

This project has intentions of community building, sustainability and urban farming that I think are beneficial to any social setting in which they are found. I hope the project continues its momentum and expansion and continues to have consistent care and maintenance.

As a volunteer-run project in a city famous for its passive aggressive flakiness, this flood of progress has the potential to slow its rush. I think that it will take a different course however become just another quirky example of the Seattle population’s dedication to progress.

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