By: Daniel Burke-Perez
Urban food insecurity has gained attention in recent years. To increase neighborhood food accesses, communities and activists across the country have developed food forests1. Interest in establishing edible forest landscapes is rooted in a desire to increase the availability of food in underserved neighborhoods, promote green spaces and biodiversity in cities, and to create new types of spaces by the community, for the community. The urban food forests popping up in the US and around the world are uniquely adapted to their regions and the communities they serve1.
A food forest is a human-made forest that strives “…to mimic a woodland ecosystem; symbiotic inter-species relationships are intentionally cultivated through planting design”2. Like a true forest, a food forest has vertical layers of growth, with trees, shrubs, bushes, herbs, root crops, vines, and mushrooms that work together in a living ecosystem3. In a food forest, most if not all of these elements are edible or provide some other use, be it medicinal, structural, or habitat for beneficial birds and insects. As a forest grows and develops, the goal is for it to become a self-sustaining system that provides a variety of food plants with little labor required. Many people see food forests as a way to create a long-term edible resource1,2.
A successful example of a food forest is the Beacon Hill food forest in Seattle4. Originally conceived of by a local student as part of a permaculture design course, the Beacon food forest has grown into a much larger project. A food forest committee was put together to involve community members in the planning process and to win the city’s approval. The food forest project took off as local landscapers and interested residents, after winning some money from the city to fund the project, broke ground on the seven acre site. Over the years, more city grants were to follow as more and more people got involved. Trees were planted that reflected the cultural and culinary diversity of the neighborhood as the project grew in scope. Years after its inception, the food forest serves the community, employs residents in its construction, and is a refreshing addition to Seattle’s urban greenscape.
Seattle’s is just one of many food forests that have been established in the US, with even more popping up all over the world. So far here in New York state there are four food forests5, a number that will hopefully continue to grow in coming years. Food forests are just one of many ways urban farmers, environmentalists, and food activists are increasing access to food in their communities by reimagining urban green spaces.
Food Forests in New York State:
New York City: http://www.swaleny.org/
- “Community Food Forests on the Rise .” The Community Food Forest Handbook: How to Plan, Organize, and Nurture Edible Gathering Places, by Catherine Bukowski et al., Chelsea Green Publishing, 2018, pp. 22–24.
- Barron, Jennifer. “The Giving Trees: Community Orchards as New Urban Commons.” Carleton University Research Virtual Environment, Carleton University, 13 Nov. 2018, pp. 10-11, 158.
- “What Is a Food Forest?” Beacon Food Forest , 2019, beaconfoodforest.org/.
- Bingle, Logan. “Beacon Food Forest A New Future for Community Gardens.” Pacific Horticulture Society, July 2013, http://www.pacifichorticulture.org/articles/beacon-food-forest/.
- “Community Food Forest Map.” Community Food Forests, 7 Feb. 2018, communityfoodforests.com/community-food-forests-map/.