Low-Hanging Fruit: Can an Edible Forest Take Root in Seattle?

Posted by Zak Stone

food forest

Imagine if your neighborhood park doubled as a communal orchard. Out of fruit in the fridge? Just stroll down the block and pluck the first ripe pear you see. It may sound like a hippie fantasy, but residents of Seattle's Beacon Hill neighborhood could soon be living that dream, with a community group planning to break ground on the country's largest "food forest" this summer.

According to longtime Beacon Hill resident Glenn Herlihy, the working-class neighborhood is sparse on public green space, despite having acres of grassland spread out around around a long-defunct reservoir. While taking a class on permaculture—the agricultural philosophy that mimics the dynamics of a natural ecosystem—Herlihy and collaborators used their final project to come up with a plan to "to regenerate this land back into something edible and natural."

The result was what Herlihy calls a "dream design." "There were no boundaries here, we just kind of went nuts and designed the most sustainable beautiful garden we could think of," he says. The plan created the groundwork for the formation of a community group, outreach efforts to neighbors and local bureaucracy, and, eventually, grants from the city. Now Friends of the Beacon Hill Food Forest is working with a landscape architect and volunteers to plan and execute the project. 

According to Herlihy, the community angled for a fruit- and berry-intensive garden in the planning sessions, so that's what they'll get. But one of the more political parts of the project could come at the harvest. "Sharing food on public lands is a very big issue," Herlihy says. "We cannot nor do we want to turn anybody away from helping or harvesting from the site." The hard part is striking a balance between sharing and over-harvesting or outright stealing.

Have any tips on sharing food from public lands based on personal experience? Contribute them in the comments below.

Image courtesy of Friends of the BFF