A Garden of Eating Blooms on Beacon Hill

Growing Beacon Hill’s new Food Forest will take a village—but it will also feed one.
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Those Pink Lady apples you’re eyeing at the supermarket cost $2.49 a pound. A feather-light pint of organic raspberries? Five bucks. But at the new, 7-acre Beacon Hill Food Forest, these and other garden produce will be free (with a little sweat equity encouraged).

Funded in part by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, and planted and maintained by dozens of volunteers, this public Garden of Eden—including fruit and nut trees, mulberry bushes and snack paths of strawberries—will break ground this fall and is due to bear its first harvest starting in the summer of 2013.

Unlike the city’s many P-Patches, where the garden food belongs to whoever does the planting, anyone—even passersby—will be allowed to pick from the Food Forest. And while at P-Patches, the ever-revolving plots are planted with annuals such lettuce and tomatoes, here, the main plantings are perennial, such as fruit and nut trees and berry bushes.

The forest is the brainchild of local proponents of permaculture (a word invented to mean “permanent agriculture,” a sustainable philosophy first defined in the 1970s) and will take root on a sunny slope just below Jefferson Park. For decades, neighbors have been cooking up ideas to develop this open space on the Seattle Public Utilities‒owned property, says Jenny Pell, a Seattle permaculture designer who specializes in edible landscapes and has played a key role in the forest’s design. The dreams began to materialize at Pell’s six-month-long permaculture workshop in 2009, when participants designed a food forest as a class project. The group applied for and won a $22,500 Seattle Department of Neighborhoods grant, most of which went toward creating a more comprehensive design. With permaculture principles at the fore, the expanded design (by Pell and Margarett Harrison, principal at Harrison Design Landscape Architecture) gives consideration to how natural features—including soil, rainwater, insects, and the new plants and trees on the site—will work together.

Food Forest organizers held three public meetings (required by the Department of Neighborhoods) to gather requests from the community before starting the official design. Neighbors responded enthusiastically. Twelve Chinese grandmothers came to one meeting with an interpreter, and lit up when they learned the Food Forest could include some fruits and berries, such as the yang-mei berry, that they couldn’t get elsewhere. People asked for bees, areas for kids, classrooms, orchards, berry fields and bike racks. The Veterans’ Hospital, just steps away, is discussing the possibility of a therapeutic garden program.


The sunny slope just west of Beacon Hill’s Jefferson Park will soon boast a bountiful food forest

Alongside the Food Forest, separate areas on the acreage are being set aside for individual garden plots, as well as larger allotments of shared garden space for groups that want to grow together, using a P-Patch model.

“The community, for the most part, has been 100 percent positive,” says Laura Raymond, of the city’s Department of Neighborhoods P-Patch Community Garden Program, which is overseeing the project. “People are really willing to pitch in, and grateful.”

Food forests aren’t a new concept, but this is likely the largest example in the U.S. Seattle has a decades-long history of P-Patches, and at a couple of community gardens, such as Capitol Hill’s Howell Collective P-Patch, neighbors work together. But the forest is slightly different: “It’s a public, edible park,” says Pell. It’s not just for those who buy the seeds or work the ground. (It’s probably also one of the only public gardens where plans include planting goji berries, loquats and pawpaw trees.)

Partial funding will come from the 2008 Parks and Green Spaces levy, but additional volunteer fundraising will be required to cover much of the seed and plant costs. Volunteers will start by building up the soil and planting about 1.75 acres with trees and plants this fall. The forest will include a nearly 2-acre native edibles area with salal, salmonberries, huckleberries and thimbleberries. Snack fruits, such as raspberries, will be planted alongside a field where kids play. Everything will be organically grown, with no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Strawberries and blueberries will likely be the first to ripen, some by next summer. The fruit and nut trees will be a longer-term project, bearing after anywhere from three to seven years in the ground. But once they do, harvests could be ample—Pell says walnut trees planted on-site could produce around 30 bushels of nuts on one tree.

If all goes according to plan, the harvests could dwarf what would be possible on the same space if it were strictly planted with rows of vegetables. “Fruit is valuable because you can grow a lot of food on a really small footprint,” says Gail Savina, executive director of Seattle nonprofit City Fruit, which helps to protect, promote, educate and help with the harvest of urban fruit trees.

This vision of bounty is overwhelming, but so, too, is the image of an all-volunteer group managing a forest of fruit- and nut-shedding edible plants. What if the ground festers with rotting fruit, attracting rodents and wasps? Pell says many cities restrict and outright ban public fruit- and nut-bearing trees in parks, for precisely this reason. “P-Patches traditionally work on an all-volunteer model,” she says, but notes, “I think this project would be served better by part-time paid staff.”

At this time, no money has been allotted for that purpose, but raspberry patches will require thinning, the Chinese hawthorn trees might need pruning, and someone will likely have to go ’round the mulberry bush with a pair of clippers. Based in permaculture techniques, the plan has been carefully designed to cut down on maintenance. (For example, planting an understory of berries beneath trees will greatly reduce the need to weed and water.) Nonetheless, says Raymond, “The community is really going to have to get themselves organized to make sure there is a good harvest plan.” But, she says, community building is part of the point. Volunteers have formed a Friends of the Beacon Food Forest committee (beaconfoodforest.weebly.com) and are holding free workshops, such as fruit tree pruning, for people interested in helping to care for forest plantings.

So what about the possibility that people will grab more than their fair share? “That’s a concern,” says Margarett Harrison. “But we feel like there will be enough eyes on the site that enough people might discourage those who want to take more than what they need,” she says. In other words, the plan to fill the place with not just gleaners, but veterans, kids, P-Patch gardeners and Chinese grandmothers should keep any one person from feeling free to grab it all. The Food Forest isn’t exactly in the middle of nowhere, either. East of the sunny Beacon Hill slope with a glorious downtown view, Jefferson Park is chock-full of amenities to draw eager grazers and gazers, with a skateboard park, putting green, playground and a spraypark set to open this month. Ball fields here have hosted everything from pickup soccer games to Samoan cricket matches.

“You do have to have etiquette,” says Pell. “No, we don’t want people coming and filling boxes of food and selling it on the corner.” But she is also amused by this particular worry. “The biggest concern is that people are going to come and eat it,” Pell marvels. “People are, like, ‘What if homeless people come and eat it all?’ My biggest dream is that it all gets eaten.”

2016 Crosscut Courage Award Winners

2016 Crosscut Courage Award Winners

The 2016 Crosscut Courage Award winners don't walk away from difficult conversations and challenges
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Back row: Honorees Richard Romero, Courage in Business, and Stephen Tan and Joey Cohn, Courage in Culture. Front row: Colleen Echohawk, Courage in Public Service, and Martha Choe, The David Brewster Lifetime Achievement Award

A trailblazing public servant who has spent decades in government and philanthropy. A banker who has given immigrants a foot in the door toward citizenship. A nonprofit leader who works to better the lot of Native Americans. And a thousands-strong community group that came together to save a beloved public radio station.

What do they all have in common? When faced with the choice between dialogue and rhetoric, between engagement and flight, they chose to stay and to talk—to struggle through difficult conversations in order to make things better for all. That’s why they’ve been selected as the winners of Crosscut’s 2016 Courage Awards.

Seattle magazine is proud to partner with online news journal Crosscut (crosscut.com) in recognizing these local leaders whose personal and professional dedication is making our region more vital, equitable and inclusive.

Courage in Culture Honoree
Friends of 88.5 

Last November, Pacific Lutheran University announced it was selling local National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate KPLU-FM to the University of Washington (UW). KPLU’s newsroom would be disbanded and its jazz programming absorbed into KUOW-FM. For the leaders of the 50-year-old KPLU, it would have been easy to just fold up the microphones and send the staff to look for work elsewhere: The $7 million deal was all but done, pending approval by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

But that didn’t happen. Instead, bowing under immense community pressure, the UW granted the station’s members a moonshot chance of matching the university’s offer and buying the station themselves. They had six months to do it.

Working under the banner of Friends of 88.5, a nonprofit created in a matter of weeks out of the vestiges of KPLU’s community advisory board, supporters and station leaders—including Joey Cohn and Stephen Tan—organized rallies across the region, including a KPLU day in Tacoma. They took to the airwaves, conscripting Audie Cornish, Quincy Jones and others to make their pitch. And they organized groups of longtime donors to provide matches of as much as $500,000.

Today, KPLU is KNKX, an independent nonprofit. The station is not totally out of the woods yet: It now needs to rebuild its reserves and find enough money just to operate. But amid a sea of dismal news about the decline of journalism, the Friends of 88.5 are a life raft.

Courage in Public Service Honoree
Colleen Echohawk

Soon after accepting the post of executive director of the Chief Seattle Club two and a half years ago, Colleen Echohawk realized that the organization had to do much more to address the multiple traumas faced by American Indian and Alaska Native people in Seattle. 

These populations suffer from a whole range of ills, from poverty to addiction to homelessness. Last year, 16 native people died while living on the streets or facing housing instability. Echohawk needed resources, but she had no experience with fundraising and found the idea of approaching groups like United Way frightening.

Today, United Way is the club’s biggest funder, and the Chief Seattle Club, a presence in the city since 1970, has become a larger force in promoting public safety and solving the crisis of homelessness. The club has added weekend hours, and the staff has grown from seven to 15, including a case manager to help with housing for the 100 members it sees daily, most of whom experience chronic homelessness. 

“She has got this way of being very positive and constructive,” says Mark Putnam at All Home Seattle, the organization coordinating homeless efforts in King County. He praises Echohawk’s ability to build strong relationships while also pushing issues, including awareness of the extreme racial disparity in homeless rates.

While Echohawk loves the many ways she has seen Seattle respond to her club members’ needs, she thinks it’s particularly hard for them to face isolation and homelessness in a city whose name honors a native leader. “This city,” she says, “is losing out on incredible people.” If Echohawk has her way, that will change.

Courage in Business Honoree
Richard Romero

For many immigrants, the path to U.S. citizenship is a difficult one. To get there, they must wait in a long line in which their nationality can determine their priority. They must learn about our system of government, memorizing more than many natural-born citizens actually know. And at the end of it all, they must hand over a hefty amount of cash.

To go from holding a green card to becoming a naturalized citizen, an individual immigrant must pay a $680 filing fee. For families, the fees can add up to thousands of dollars. That’s a tall order: As many as half of King County’s 100,000 immigrants eligible for citizenship may be impoverished, according to Seattle’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. 

Under the leadership of CEO Richard Romero, the Seattle Metropolitan Credit Union has begun helping with this final hoop via a novel partnership with the City of Seattle that provides loans to immigrants. The city’s main role is to communicate with immigrant populations about the availability of the loans. The credit union takes care of the rest.

While there’s been lots of bluster this year about building walls and turning immigrants away at our borders, Romero’s initiative honors one of our country’s core values and lends a helping hand to those seeking a better life.

Lifetime Achievement Honoree
Martha Choe

If you spotted her on the bus in the morning, with her low-key, unassuming manner and neatly parted hair, you might not guess that Martha Choe is one of the most influential people in Washington’s recent history. But Choe has been a trailblazer for both women and people of color in Washington. 

From her terms on the Seattle City Council and work in state government to her leadership in the banking sector and global influence as the chief administrative officer of the Gates Foundation, Choe has embraced a leadership style that prioritizes compromise and getting things done over popularity and easy point scoring. 

Leadership requires both “vision and reality,” Choe said in a recent talk at the Henry M. Jackson Foundation. “Leadership involves people, not just org charts and boxes. Learn, listen and understand different perspectives.”

Choe used this approach to get Asian at-risk youth off the streets by investing in community centers. She helped revive Seattle’s downtown by reopening Pine Street to cars and bringing more than 1 million square feet of retail space to downtown Seattle between 1996 and 1998. And she spent a decade overseeing the operations of large portions of the Gates Foundation—including human resources and the hiring of staff—building the philanthropic powerhouse into its present form. 

As someone who has dedicated her lifetime to public service and steady leadership, Choe exemplifies what it means to be an involved, courageous citizen of the Pacific Northwest.