By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Some Asian Americans view gardening as an enjoyable hobby. For others, growing food is simply a matter of survival. Asian farmers — in China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Vietnam — produce almost 90 percent of the world’s total supply of rice.
In Seattle’s Beacon Hill district, both forms of urban agriculture are planned to occur on a large scale within the next few years.
Beacon Food Forest, formerly known as the Jefferson Park Food Forest, got its start from a design exercise in a permaculture class. It later received a $20,000 grant from the Department of Neighborhoods.
“In a sense, this is like growing a food bank,” said Glenn Herlihy, a Beacon Hill gardener, sculptor, and one of seven members of the project’s steering committee. “The excess can go to other food banks and other people of need in the neighborhood.”
Beacon Food Forest is set to be located on public land at the intersection of South Dakota Street and 16th Avenue South, southwest of Jefferson Park.
“Right now, it’s all grass and is really not producing anything of much quality other than open space.”
It will also be a gathering space and an ecosystem designed to mimic the beneficial relationship between plants and animals found in a natural forest. This concept, says Herlihy, “goes way, way back. As a matter of fact, there are 2,000-year-old food forests in Vietnam that are well documented on YouTube.”
Beacon Food Forest is intended to produce high yields of produce with low maintenance.
“We’re not going to make a wild area. We’re going to tend it well, and it should look nice and neat, but they’re all going to be a little bit denser in order to self-mulch themselves, keep the weeds down naturally with their own leaves, use different plants to keep the weeds down,” he said. “Success for the project will be if we can gather enough support from a variety of people to (also) help maintain the food forest.”
He emphasized, “We can literally grow plants from around the world here in this area.” Plums, apricots, and maybe even loquats will be grown alongside many perennials.
“We’re not going to plant the entire four acres,” he added. “These plants would all work in time together as far as their blooming and their fruit production. They would work as a small ecosystem within themselves.”
The project’s steering committee encourages Asian Americans living in the district to help plan and support Beacon Food Forest. “They’ve set examples of old-world techniques of growing vegetables in a varieties of ways,” said Herlihy. “And, that’s where we need the knowledge of the Asian community. That’s what we’re looking for.”
The steering committee includes Christina Olson, Jackie Kramer, Bob Redmond, Briar Bates, Brian DeBenedetti, and Julie Haack.
“We’re trying our hardest to get the word out to have a variety of ethnic backgrounds for this committee to be able to go forward.”
Growing fresh fruits and vegetables locally, instead of importing them, enables people to meet and know each other and save money, says Herlihy. “That’s huge for our future, to be able to provide people a place to grow their food when food gets too expensive,” states Herlihy.
Droughts, freezing temperatures, and floods in the United States and Mexico have combined to increase prices of fruits and vegetables.
During the past year, there was an overall price increase of 2.8 percent for food bought at supermarkets, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s most recent Consumer Price Index report.
Hassen Benedicto, a Filipino American, provides another option for people who prefer farm-raised food.
He operates a roadside business in the Beacon Hill district, selling Yakima-grown bell peppers and such Asian favorites as bitter melon, long beans, and eggplant. He says there are two reasons why this area has been one of the best places for him.
First, he gets repeat business from long-time customers. “There’s a lot of Filipino people out in that area, and our parents have been selling in that area for so long already (since 1990) that they are a part of the community,” said Benedicto.
Second, he says his customers want fresh vegetables right away. “We pick them right off the vine, and we take them down there and sell them as soon as possible.”
Located across the street from the main entrance to the Veterans Administration Medical Center, Benedicto’s business will again open in June. ♦
Beacon Hill Forest’s steering committee will hold its first design party at The Garden House, 2336 15th Ave. S., on Wednesday, May 4 at 7:00 p.m. For more information about Beacon Food Forest, go to jeffersonparkfoodforest.weebly.com.
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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