Water chestnuts, breadfruit, dragon fruit and medicinal palms: In just two years, all this could be harvested two and a half miles from downtown Seattle.
Organizers of the Beacon Hill Food Forest want to turn a city-owned seven-acre site west of Jefferson Park into a community garden where residents can grow their own food.
Beacon Hill resident Glenn Herlihy, a garden designer, got the idea from a design class he took in 2009.
"We picked Jefferson Park and came up with a design to pass the class," he said.
To make the plan a reality, Herlihy and his neighbors have launched Friends of Beacon Hill Food Forest.
Group members tout the area's ample sun exposure as an ideal location for growing food and envision an array of crops that reflects the area's ethnic and cultural diversity.
The group has backing from the City of Seattle. In March, the Department of Neighborhoods awarded Beacon Food Forest a $22,000 grant to hire a consultant and pay for outreach and conceptual designs.
The Friends of the Food Forest is working with the Department of Neighborhoods and Seattle Public Utilities, which owns the land.
"This is new for SPU's properties," said Christina Olson, a lifelong resident of Beacon Hill and one voice in the Friends of Beacon Food Forest.
Seattle Public Utilities spokesperson Danielle Purnell said in an email to Real Change that while the utility may be able to make underutilized property available for the project, it cannot help fund it.
The project would need to be supported by a responsible group that can pay the necessary costs and assure it is well maintained and not in conflict with adjacent parks space or SPU's other uses, Purnell said.
Project organizers held two meetings, in June and July, to gather support and input from the community. To publicize the first one, organizers mailed notices printed in five languages to more than 7,000 households, Olson said.
About 70 people attended the group's most recent community meeting.
Concepts for the garden include zones, with space for fruit and nut trees, wild areas and more manicured landscapes.
The garden's sponsors have identified Mercer Middle School and Cleveland High School as potential sponsors. They also contacted the Veterans Administration to see if VA Hospital outpatient members with PTSD and other challenges might tie into gardening as rehabilitation.
Olson and Herlihy estimate they'll need $300,000 to $500,000 from the City of Seattle and other sources to fund the project.
More than money, they'll need grassroots involvement.
"What determines the size of the food forest is how many people will commit," Herlihy said.
He expects that many will want to take part in the project.
"There are a lot of hungry and out-of-work folk on Beacon Hill. Think of this as low-cost organic gardening."