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Growing an Urban Eden

Edible forests offer a new approach to food security.

Illustration Credit: Broccoli Forest, by Elaine Chen

In 2014, the World Economic Forum listed access to food—in both quantity and quality—as a top global worry over the next 10 years. Community gardeners in Seattle have translated that worry into action, launching a new kind of urban garden: a food forest.Food forests are based on an idea from the late 1970s: permaculture, an agricultural system that mimics ecology. An edible woodland mimics a healthy forest ecosystem.“Food forests have a certain canopy arrangement to capture sunlight and maximize energy, so plants work synergistically,” says Jacqueline Cramer, a permaculture educator and a founder of the Beacon Food Forest, which opened in Seattle last year. The volunteer-driven public garden is modeled after the ecology of Pacific Northwest forests as managed by indigenous people in the past, where perennials—berries, fruits, nuts, tubers, and other edible foods—grow in concert with minimal care. An edible forest elsewhere would mimic another kind of environment.Food forests are not new. For centuries the Yuracaré people, for example, have collectively managed some of the last remaining forests in Boliv …

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