Learn more about creating a fruitful urban landscape from Jackie and other experts during the Urban Agriculture and Community Food Systems webinar, part of the Living Community Challenge series.
Seattle’s Beacon Hill Food Forest is the first project on public land in the United States. The food forest is tended to by the local community and offers an open and ethical harvest to anyone who visits. The project has gained national and global attention because of the team’s vision to share freshly-grown food on public land. Designed as a permaculture garden, its roots are reaching into the local community and also planting seeds in the minds of food security organizers far and wide.
The Beacon Food Forest is a revival of the commons is sparking a vibrant community: local neighbors from various ethnic backgrounds; young people finding hope in the planting of trees; skilled carpenters and landscapers; office workers looking to get their hands in the dirt; and local school kids all come out to work parties every month (over one hundred have attended each event over the past four years).Watching children eat from the berry shrubs and vegetables is a good measure of success, too. The core organizing team, comprised of 30-40 dedicated volunteers, is continually inspired by the level of participation. The core team’s duties range from managing plants, to writing grants, to coordinating with city officials, and teaching workshops.
The process of creating this public space has been arduous at times. “The Ecology is the easy part,” said Michael Pilarski, a seasoned permaculture farmer and educator with 40 years experience, in reference to the challenges of creating the Beacon Food Forest. The community has met with City officials to amend city code, learned how to make decisions with a newly-formed group, and spread the message of ethical harvesting to a neighborhood that speaks over 52 languages.
Permaculture provides ethics and principles for designing human landscapes, which includes the social aspects. Our project is guided by the principles of “Use and Value diversity” and “Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback,” among other permaculture values. These values apply to the land and to our interactions with one another. People gain resiliency when they learn how to work together and obtain skills to feed their families. As a result, they are more well-equipped to handle life changes that come their way. The Beacon Food Forest provides food, but it also provides skills and a place to feel good about the future of our community.
Our community food forest now serves a variety of purposes:
• A place to plant perennial food crops that will enrich the soil and regenerate the land.
• An emergency hub for earthquakes. It’s a place for people can gather to problem-solve and create solutions.
• A space for our community to learn how to work together toward a common vision.
The process of working in the food forest has taught us how to get along despite our differences. We’ve had success in teaching young people public speaking and how to facilitate meetings. We’ve learned from a community of diverse backgrounds and how to make this public land welcoming to everyone. Our lives have all been deeply enriched by this work through its challenges and rewards because this work has opened our hearts.