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.