Food Forests in Seattle?

Seattle’s urban fabric is about to have a new addition: a forest.

On a seven-acre plot in Beacon Hill, plans for a food forest are going ahead. The idea began in 2009 as a project for a permaculture class, and has since received funding for the design and procurement of seeds, and a land grant from Seattle Public Utilities.

So the question is: what is a food forest? Fair question. The concept of permaculture has been gradually gaining traction as issues of sustainability and green practice are pushed to the fore. And therein lies the idea for the food forest. A perennial, self-sustaining garden, operating as a public park and open to all. Blueberries in season? Feel free to harvest as many as you like. The same with anything else growing in the garden.

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The idea isn’t necessarily new, but what is new is both the scale of the project, and the location of the park within the fabric of the city. It is this convenient location that raises a lot of questions amongst critics, primarily how to monitor collection and avoid abuse of the park by individuals. But then, the answer to that question could be the largest positive of the project. Those who harvest the most are those who need the most.

In response to the question of who is the food grown in the park available to, lead landscape architect Margarett Harrison responded: “Anyone and everyone. There was major discussion about it. People worried, ‘What if someone comes and takes all the blueberries?’ That could very well happen, but maybe someone needed those blueberries. We look at it this way—if we have none at the end of blueberry season, then it means we’re successful.”

And ultimately, that should be the mentality. Until the park actually opens and the first fruit is produced, no one can accurately predict the response. However, the community response simply to the development of the project, and the coverage the idea is getting, has already largely proven it a success. If further to that it can provide nutritional assistance to the underprivileged, well then, the negatives will be hard to find.

 

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

Superfood for Thought

We find ourselves caught up these days, especially in cities with a “foodie” culture, in the latest healthy trend. Superfoods, supplements, and exotic items on the menu are a natural outlet for disposable income, using it to improve the quality of our own lives with the added benefit of being environment- and health-conscious.

Give a thought next time though, as you bite into say, a delicious quinoa wrap, give a thought to the story of that quinoa—before you pat yourself on the back for supporting Peruvian farmers, choosing a more environmentally friendly crop, and embracing the health benefits of this miracle grain. There can be unfortunate global repercussions due to our increasing obsession with these products.

Quinoa harvest in Bolivia

It’s a great irony too. For in Peru, where the majority of quinoa is produced, many locals can no longer afford to eat it. Having been the staple food in this region for hundreds of years, Western demand has now pushed prices up to a level where the majority is exported, and the diet of locals has been supplanted by imported junk food. The push in the West to diversify our diet, and in a lot of circles reduce the impact of animal husbandry by moving towards vegetarianism, has led to the opposite effect in the countries from where we import these crops. In the US quinoa is added to the diet and junk foods reduced, and in Peru quinoa is removed from the diet and junk foods increased.

If everything ends up being in balance globally, one step forward one step back, are we really accomplishing anything by being “conscious”?

Answer that question and I’ll buy you the world. And all the quinoa in it. Truth is I feel torn, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Maybe we should be looking for alternatives. Maybe we should be moving away from such a focus on meat, especially red meat, in our diets. But we need to be aware that there’s a cost for everything. That quite often “local” is better than “organic.” Transferring our problems isn’t solving them—only making them somebody else’s.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.