Seattle’s “food forest” brings foraging to the people
Author Heather Hansman Photography Melanie Coerver
In south Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, grapes and pumpkins are still ripening in an ungated garden sandwiched between the heavy traffic of 15th Avenue and Jefferson Park. And if you want some, just come and get it.
This is the Beacon Food Forest, a seven-acre slope of public land where anyone can harvest nuts, herbs, berries and vegetables. Fruit trees stand close to the road and, up a hill, paths wind through plots of vegetables surrounding an open gazebo. The first public foraging zone of its kind, the food forest is run by a volunteer group, which, with the help of a $100,000 grant from the city, started planting items like blueberries, shiro plums, salmonberries and medicinal herbs in the fall of 2012.
Designed to be self-sustaining, the food forest resembles a naturally occurring forest—albeit a tastier one. Food-providing greenery appears in vertical layers, from the ground cover of pumpkins and onions to a canopy of high volume walnut trees. Because most of the forest consists of perennial plants that take a while to mature, this past summer’s first harvest was thin—mainly quick-growing berries and herbs—but by next summer there will be lots to pick. In the future, co-founder Glenn Herlihy says, the forest should grow enough food that, even if people take more than their fair share, there will be plenty for everyone—not that everyone will even need it. “We wanted to bring a little more nature and green to our neighborhood, but it’s had an impact I didn’t count on,” he says. “Now folks are learning how to do it themselves.”