Jodi Helmer
April 6, 2012

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The Beacon Food Forest mixes forested areas with fruit trees and shrubs, as well as gardening patches.

Residents of the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle came up with a plan to transform an unused tract of land into an urban food forest.

Despite robust community support, creating the Beacon Food Forest, a 7-acre public garden planted with fruit and nut trees, berry shrubs, and edible annuals and perennials — all free for the picking — required more than wheelbarrows full of seedlings and the willingness to work the land.

Seattle Public Utilities, owners of the coveted urban lot, needed to grant approval, and the project needed funding.

In 2011, Beacon Hill residents got the news that the land was available for the project and two grants — $100,000 from a Parks and Green Spaces Levy and $22,000 from a Small and Simple neighborhood grant — would turn the Beacon Food Forest from a concept into a reality.

“The Food Forest blurs the boundaries of traditional landscape design,” says Laura Raymond, project coordinator with Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. “People want to know if it’s a forest, a park, a garden. It piques their curiosity.”

There is no one-size-fits-all definition of what the Beacon Food Forest will be.

Friends of Beacon Food Forest hired The Harrison Design Team to develop a landscape plan for the project. It incorporates forested areas planted with fruit-and nut-bearing trees and shrubs as well as traditional gardening patches for community vegetable gardening. The group envisions a public foraging area and community harvest days to encourage neighborhood involvement.

“To some extent, how it’s going to work is still evolving,” says Raymond. “It’s a concept that is definitely riding on the tails of a larger, growing interest in growing food.”

Construction is slated to start in a few months with the first plantings installed in the fall.

The response has been overwhelming. Neighborhood planning meetings, which typically attract 30 or fewer Beacon Hill residents, have been standing-room-only.

The Beacon Food Forest has also attracted international attention.

“We’ve gotten calls from other city staff who are interested in the concept and want to know how we’re doing it here,” Raymond says.

According to Raymond, inquiries have come from across the United States and as far away as South Africa and Germany.

“The Food Forest is an example of how people and cities are getting more creative about how to use urban spaces and how to fit gardens into an increasingly dense city,” she says. “Community gardening has always been a beloved part of what makes Seattle, Seattle. This is a really exciting example.”

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