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What’s a food forest, you ask? Just what it sounds like: a nature preserve full of edible plants, to help feed the city.
Urban foraging is a growing trend, albeit one that’s a bit limited--foragers usually have a pretty extensive knowledge of the local flora and fauna, and they are sometimes loathe to divulge their foraging secrets (just try and get foragers to give up their favorite mushroom hunting spot). But a new urban food project, The Beacon Food Forest, a seven-acre oasis of edible shrubs, trees, and plants that broke ground this month, is about to make it a lot easier for Seattle residents to freely take what nature has to offer. Set to be the largest public food forest (or you could call it the largest public edible landscape) in the country, the forest will feature chestnuts, walnuts, apple and mulberry trees, berry shrubs, vegetables, and all manner of herbaceous plants. The forest, which is being built with help from a $100,000 local government grant, will also contain edible arboretums, community garden plots, and tree patches (garden plots containing trees).
The whole thing will be built using permaculture design, which aims to imitate wild food landscapes, minimizing hard labor by humans. In permaculture, certain plants are included because they attract insects that can provide natural pest management, for example. Other plants alter the soil to provide nitrogen and mulch. The end result is a landscape that largely--but not entirely--takes care of itself.
Glen Herlihy, a member of the food forest steering committee, tells the Northwest Asian Weekly: “We’re not going to make a wild area. We’re going to tend it well, and it should look nice and neat, but they’re all going to be a little bit denser in order to self-mulch themselves, keep the weeds down naturally with their own leaves, use different plants to keep the weeds down." In addition to providing food for Seattle residents, the Friends of Beacon Food Forest will offer a number of free and paid workshops on topics like food preservation, plant identification, and basket making. There are plenty of other food forests around the world. This 2,000 year-old food forest in Morocco offers foragers everything from olives to grapes:
But nothing trumps the potential size and scope of the future Beacon Food Forest, at least in the U.S. If every city in the U.S. fronted some cash for similar food projects, urban farming could really take off--and cities could one day provide residents with the majority (or at least a large proportion) of their produce.