The Festival Beach Food Forest is a public, fence-free piece of land in east Austin, where residents are invited to harvest and eat fresh fruits, herbs, and greens.
The Festival Beach Food Forest is entirely volunteer-run. If you'd like to get involved, send an email to email@example.com. Once social distancing orders are removed, you can also join the food forest on the first Saturday of every month (9am to noon) for a plant walk and picnic.
Picture this. It’s a beautiful spring day. The sun is shining and you’re out for a walk through a neighborhood park. To your right is a lush peach tree, heavy with fuzzy, juicy fruit. You pick one and enjoy an afternoon snack.
Turn to your left. Rosemary is growing wild. You crouch down and pick off a few sprigs for tonight’s dinner.
Everywhere you look there is abundance. Food is growing everywhere. And it’s all free.
Sounds like a utopian fever dream. But this place is real. And you can find it right here in Austin, Texas.
It’s called the Festival Beach Food Forest, a public park, just east of 1-35, nestled between the highway and the RBJ Center.
And you really can walk through it and harvest food to eat. Pretty amazing.
Especially now, as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on our national food supply, the concept behind Festival Beach is pretty attractive. A public, fence-free, edible forest that offers something to eat for those who need it.
But it took a long time to get to this point. Earlier this week, The Austin Common sat down (virtually) with Jonathan Barona (president of the board for the Festival Beach Food Forest) to talk about the organization and it’s role in building a more local, resilient, and equitable food system in Austin.
According to Jonathan, the Festival Beach Food Forest was the first of its kind in Austin and only the second in the entire US, which meant there were a lot of regulatory battles to fight through.
“And I love the city, I know so many people at the city,” Jonathan explained. “They’ve been great and great supporters… But the amount of regulation… They build a box and if you don’t fit in that box, then you don’t exist basically. Nobody knows what to do with you.”
This is the attitude that Jonathan and many other local food activists are still trying to overcome, not just for Festival Beach, but in order to bring new and innovative projects like this to neighborhoods across Austin.
For Jonathan, it’s really just a matter of getting people to shift their perspectives, and to a certain extent, to imagine how things used to be.
“It’s going back to a state that we should be used to, or we used to be used to,” Jonathan said. “Until all our food started coming from little plastic boxes.”
Of course, it’s not as if food forests and community gardens are going to replace grocery stores any time soon, but especially during times of crisis or disaster, they can make our city more resilient.
“So I think folks are waking up to the fact that, oh actually maybe that’s not a bad idea, to produce some of your own food,” Jonathan said. “Like, I’m not going to grow wheat here [at his home], to make flour, because it’s super inefficient. But I can have a couple fruit trees, and some chickens, and a vegetable garden.”
Ultimately, Jonathan explained, what has made him fall in love with Festival Beach is its public nature, and the ways it’s allowed him to gain some control over where our food comes from.
“For me, there’s a little bit of rebellion in retaking the commons,” Jonathan said. “In the sense of, our public parks are common space. They’re supposed to be the commons and we look at it as a city park. And so I love the fact that not only can we create food for our community, and have a really interesting fun project… but we’re also doing it on public space, and in a common space that is ours, as citizens, residents, tax-payers…”
PS – Wondering what’s going on with the Festival Beach Food Forest during COVID-19? Since it’s on public land, the food forest is technically not closed, but in accordance with social distancing recommendations, it’s probably best to avoid visiting it until Stay At Home orders are lifted. However, if you are in need of food, you are still allowed by stop by and do a bit of harvesting. Just make sure that you stay 6 feet away from other people and thoroughly wash whatever you pick before you eat it. And of course, keep an eye on the Festival Beach Facebook page for any updates.
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