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Seattle’s Beacon Food Forest Growing Berries,Veggies And Woodland Soil

It’s Earth Day. Some volunteers will celebrate by digging in the soil at community gardens.

But one Seattle neighborhood is taking that idea to a whole new level, at the Beacon Food Forest.  

Jackie Cramer, one of the founders, stands at the top of a hillside that was once an all-green manicured lawn, raking up at the end of the day.

Beneath her, raised beds and special compost bins are transforming the landscape. Two acres are on their way to becoming a woodland forest.

She says under city law, this community garden is technically a pea patch, but with a different concept at work: “permaculture.”  

“Which would be looking at nature cycles and emulating them,” she said. “So instead of just being a forest, we have food in there.”

And that food is meant for anyone who stops by to forage. There are layers of plants, with shrubs and fruit trees along the edges.

The other unique thing here is that the community decides what to grow. And Kramer says there are clear preferences.  

“We kept hearing berries, berries and berries, so we have berries all around.”

Strawberries as groundcover, along with blueberries, raspberries, jostaberries and gojiberries (a now-trendy superfood that’s native to China.)

Even though she’s a landscaper by profession, Kramer says many of the plants and growing techniques are new to her, brought in by other volunteers. There’s also a large vegetable garden two newcomers put in for the neighborhood.  And an intricately-designed mushroom hut.

“Shaded by hops and has wineberry growing around it and Jerusalem artichokes shading it out for the summer,” said Glenn Herlihy, the food forest’s other co-founder, as he stooped down admiring the contraption.

He’s expecting to to see coveted Shitakes popping up inside it soon, along with logs full of oyster mushrooms.

But even more exciting than those edibles, he says, are the microscopic fungi that are forming in the soils that they’re building all around the hillside.     

“They’re micro-digesters and they’re helping us build a forest floor.”

That’s a process that normally takes thousands of years. But Herlihy says they’re adding organic fertilizers and carefully-composed composts.

“We’re trying to launch it in this just –poof-- of nutrient,” he said, seeming a bit giddy after a long day of work under Seattle’s unseasonably sunny Seattle skies.

Already, in just about two years since the planting began, the founders note that this budding food forest is attracting lots of newcomers – not just people, but birds and bees and even centipedes.

As the landscape evolves and more take its produce, the organizers say they’re not worried about enforcing the ethics of community sharing that they promote here.

If they run out of berries or squash or kale, they figure that’s just a sign that they need to keep going and grow more.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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