By Marcelene Sutter

Blueberries are just one of the many fruits that will be available for picking upon the completion of the Beacon Food Forest. Credit: Brandi Jordan

We can all agree that freshness matters in the taste of produce, whether you harbor fond memories of blueberry picking as children or frequent the farmer’s market in search of garden-fresh fruits. However, city-dwellers often do not have the opportunity to pick fresh fruit for themselves, but that will soon change for residents of Seattle, Washington. A 7-acre public plot in the working-class neighborhood of Beacon Hill is slated to become the largest urban food forest on U.S. public land. Currently, Friends of Beacon Food Forest, as the project has been dubbed, are working with $100,000 in seed money for the first phase of the project, a 1.75-acre test plot, scheduled to open by the end of the year. The forest will highlight fruit-bearing plants and visitors will be able to pick many fruits including apples, blueberries and plums.

The question of how to deal with visitors eager to take more than their fair share of the forest’s produce has been raised, and Glenn Herlihy, co-founder of the project, says that the only solution so far is to ensure that there is more than enough to go around. Herlihy’s primary concern right now is preparing the park for visitors and drawing residents of the diverse surrounding neighborhoods. Herlihy sees this as an opportunity for community-building, calling the Beacon Food Forest “a place where all ages and ethnicities can meet.” For the residents of this area, having a food forest would provide a sense of community as well as an important step forward in the realm of environmental justice.

Environmental justice is a little-known term for an important concept: the idea that all people have the right to the same basic rights, including fair distribution of negative environmental consequences. American Forests has addressed this idea with our Urban Forest Restoration Program, in conjunction with our friends at Alcoa Foundation, in Seattle’s West Duwamish Greenbelt area. The West Duwamish Greenbelt area, which is near Beacon Hill, experiences adverse effects from its proximity to one of the most polluted waterways in the country. More work still needs to be done across the country to ensure environmental justice for all citizens, but these projects are an important step forward.