Kathleen Alcalá

The Clueless Eater


March 12, 2012

Tags: Bainbridge Island, food forest, Seattle, permaculture, sustainable, Abundantly Green

A greenhouse at Islandwood on Bainbridge Island.
As the winter season wanes, we miss the foods that are in such abundance in the late summer. We ate the last of our frozen green beans, but still have a few potatoes from Abundantly Green, and our homemade saur kraut. I made hamentashen dough with duck eggs for Purim. Pinto beans are boiling on the stove, and we will eat them with quesadillas.

This is the time of year when gardeners dream over seed catalogues, and The Clueless Eater breaks down and buys mandarin oranges and grapefruits from California. I need citrus, and the orangery I mentioned in my last blog would find a place in my living room if we had to live off of food we grew on the island.

Others, I have discovered, are also dreaming big. It was first covered by a Canadian blog, but now the U.S. media is full of the news – the City of Seattle plans to plant a food forest on Beacon Hill. What is a food forest, you ask? It is a system of plants that will mostly sustain itself, while offering food to people. The best part of this? It will be free and open to the public. The food is for the taking. Like the town of Todmorten in the U.K., Seattle is betting that if people can have it, they will take care of it.

This is the direction I would love to see Bainbridge go, planting public space in food that we can both share and share the responsibility for. The food forest in Seattle, still in the planning stages, will offer small pea-patches, a children’s play area, indigenous Northwest plants, “a big overstory of sweet chestnuts, and the understory will have persimmons and mulberries and Chinese haws…going down into the lower zone will be where the familiar herbs and lower plants from the Asian palate,” according to Jenny Pell, the permaculturalist designing the food forest.

I know right where this forest will go. I often visited Beacon Hill when I worked with the Hmong and Lao populations in the area. It could not be more diverse, with subsequent waves of immigrants making the area rich and lively. Vacant lots, and land owned by Our Lady of Mt. Virgin Church, have been under cultivation for at least twenty years. The seven acres are being provided by Seattle Public Utilities. The garden designers plan to incorporate food plants indigenous to these many cultures, so that they, too, will feel ownership for the land and the food it produces.

Now I am waiting to hear how many people they think could be fed from the seven-acre food forest. Such a future could be possible for Bainbridge. This is where I am supposed to throw around terms like “permaculture.” These are plants that have developed in conjunction with humans. They will be permanent as long as we are. If not, they will become something else.
With Cowichan Elder Hyamiciate, Della (Rice) Sylvester at the The Living Breath of wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ Indigenous Foods and Ecological Knowledge Symposium


Selected Works

Creative nonfiction, memoir, environmental sustainability.
Combining memoir, historical records, and a blueprint for sustainability, The Deepest Roots shows us how an island population can mature into responsible food stewards and reminds us that innovation, adaptation, diversity, and common sense will help us make wise decisions about our future. And along the way, we learn how food is intertwined with our present but offers a path to a better understanding of the future.
Creative Nonfiction
Essays on Family and Writing

The Desert Remembers My Name makes an important contribution to discussions of ethnicity, identity, and the literature of place.”
Bloomsbury Review
"...a mesmerizing tale... the author explores the fascinating confusions and contradictions plaguing a culture precariously poised between tradition and modernization."
"She never forgot the power of storytelling as testimony."
The Utne Reader
"Kathleen Alcalá's Spirits of the Ordinary is an enthralling book..."
–Paul Yamazaki, City Lights Books

"This book entered my dreams."
–Alberto Rios
Short Fiction
"Thoroughly satisfying."
The New York Times Book Review

"By turns touching, entertaining, and surprising, and uniquely her own."
Publishers Weekly

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