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Seattle Will Soon Have The Nation's Largest Food Forest

Lesley McClurg

A lofty vision is becoming a reality in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. Volunteers are about to dig up a large grassy hillside and make it into the nation's largest food forest on public land. Seven empty acres will soon be planted with fruits and vegetables for the community to enjoy.


Glenn Herlihy is a landscape designer and gardener. He enjoys spending time in his small garden behind his house on Beacon Hill.

Herlihy: "I go out to heal in nature. And I go in my garden, in my own yard, to heal myself from the city's hard strict lines and the hard asphalt. To relax, and observe, and to be with plants."

But he's always dreamed of having a bigger garden — much bigger. He began to envision a food forest on an open space near Jefferson Park. He shared the idea in a permaculture class he was taking a few years ago.

Herlihy: "It's the old way of growing food and working with nature and using plants to sort of work together instead of creating a row of one crop, or rows and fields of one crop. We're actually doing a mixture of plants that work together."

Herlihy and four other students created a design for a food forest as the final project for their class. They showed their plans to Seattle Public Utilities because the agency currently owns the land.

Herlihy's timing was good. Mayor Mike McGinn had just declared 2010 as the Year of Urban Agriculture for Seattle.

Herily says his initial meetings with City Council members went well. People were excited about filling an open field with fruits and vegetables like mulberries, persimmons and Asian pears.

But then reality set in. Herlihy needed permits. And Seattle doesn't have any standards or guidelines in place to manage a food forest. City agencies started meeting without him. Even the Seattle Police Department became involved because some fear theft will be a problem.

It took three long years. And now, on Saturday gardeners will plant their first tree at a ground–breaking party.

Glenn Herlihy says it's a dream come true.

Herlihy: "We can all be here together, have our food, understand our food, and share our food."

He hopes the Beacon Hill Food Forest will be an example for other neighborhoods in the city.

For KUOW News, I'm Lesley McClurg.

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