Seattleites in the Beacon Hill neighborhood are participating in a social experiment. Can planting a shared food forest help bring the community together to grow food, rehabilitate the local ecosystem, improve public health and educate people about the environmental impact of food production?
The Beacon Food Forest is currently being cultivated on seven acres of public land in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. While community gardens are common in the northwest, The Beacon Food Forest is unique, as it is open and free for the public to participate in and enjoy.
Wondering what a food forest is?
“A food forest is a gardening technique or land management system, which mimics a woodland ecosystem by substituting edible trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. Fruit and nut trees make up the upper level, while berry shrubs, edible perennials and annuals make up the lower levels. The Beacon Food Forest will combine aspects of native habitat rehabilitation with edible forest gardening.” - Beaconfoodforest.org
The food forest is also situated in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Seattle, bringing hundreds of volunteers, visitors and community members from different backgrounds together to build this shared space.
Although many of the fruit and nut trees will take years to begin producing, many annual vegetables are already ready for picking!
While there are still questions being asked about how sharing this space and what it produces will work in the long run, my questions about this project come more from a gardening and animal rights perspective, such as how will they be fertilizing the trees? Sustainably or with animal inputs?
Shouldn’t the pollinators be volunteers (like the people who planted the forest) instead of animals or insects being brought in and kept on site?
Although the project leaders have promised to plant flowers for native pollinators, they are also keeping honeybees on site. Especially when a food forest is supposed to “mimic a woodland ecosystem,” keeping bees in boxes (where their honey may be extracted) seems very strange and unnatural to me. Although it is unclear if they will attempt to use the honey produced by these bees, this element of the project leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth.
I say keep the forest, but not the bees. With enough diversity of fruits and flowers, bees and other native pollinators will come on their own if they wish to.