Cascadia Cornucopia Food Forest as a prototype for food permaculture areas on campuses

Cascadia College

Project Overview

The Cascadia Food Forest is an example of an integrated learning project at Cascadia College. It was designed to facilitate learning opportunities outside the classroom. The food forest is a small space on campus, less than an acre, that was intentionally planted with various fruit trees and plants from all around the world. Previously the location was a lawn space and converted to a permaculture area for accessible foraging of fruit and herbs. The space created opportunities for students of multiple disciplines to engage and learn both in and outside classrooms - and find free fruit as an equitable access source of healthy foods. The food forest is open to the public to learn and explore about fruit not commonly found in local grocery stores, with online education opportunities to connect their learning to campus.


The concept to create a space for sustainable food and permaculture opportunities right on campus was first invisioned in 2015. The idea was brought forth by both various Cascadia biology faculty and the lead Environmental Technology and Sustainable Practices professor Gail Alexander. Thereafter, Vice President Terence Hsiao nurtured the idea, and campus Head Gardener Tyson Kemper committed grounds management of the space to bring it to life.

Located just north of the joint UW-Bothell and Cascadia College campus library, the flora on this patch of land replaced a grass lawn area, and houses over 30 fruit trees, several berry shrub bushes, and edible herbs. Despite the relatively small land area and wide range of different ripening dates, the food forest provides the community with an assortment of fruits, berries, nuts, flowers, herbs, and seeds from around the world over a long period of ripening throughout the year. The variety of plants themselves also provide habitat and shelter for our local animals and encourage pollinators to thrive.

The space is used by a variety of classes in STEM, as an opportunity for both international students and English as a second language classes, and for on-campus events such as food foraging and cider making events. Our campus supplies some of the excess food grown in the food forest to the Kodiak Cave food pantry/resource center, in the hopes to further promote equitable food access on campus to students in need.


The food forest offers to give students and local residents a chance to see and eat fruits that are not normally in grocery stores with no cost to them. It allows the visitor to learn about local and non-local fruits and herbs. The food forest connects to Cascadia’s sustainability commitments through permaculture management, creating space for wildlife on campus grounds, and providing seasonal fruits to students and the community. Students in STEM classes can learn about biology and the food forest ecosystem, while the space allows for a gathering place to study through targeted seating areas. The Cornucopia Food Forest correlates to the triple bottom line aspect of ‘equity’ by creating a public recreational space, but also for environmental sustainable goals on campus.


The project was first created with the hope to maintain both the commitment to sustainability that the college holds as well as find ways to equitably support underprivileged students and members of the community. With that goal in mind, funds were put aside to purchase initial trees, the grounds team committed to care and management of the space, various faculty and staff on campus were approached to connect to their class lessons, and the communications department and orientation staff used the food forest as an outreach tool for the college.

Cascadia’s sustainability office provided student opportunities to write about the fruit and trees in the food forest through a public blog, thereby providing the community with resources on these foods, and the potential to grow similar plants in their own home gardens, as well as hosting workshops and tours for campus classes. The office worked to provide class experiences in the food forest, and workshops in the summers to engage staff on the nontraditional fruit and berries.


The Cornucopia Food Forest is an evolving, ongoing space and project on our campus, with many involved stakeholders. It began through a meeting of managers: Vice President, grounds manager, and involved faculty; once commitments were confirmed, the purchase and planting of the food forest took place in a matter of months. Students in engaged classes were called upon to volunteer for planting and basic care, even to this day. The main concern over management was long term care of the site. While initial planning and planting took only a few months from start to finish, student involvement, curriculum integration, campus tours, and ongoing efforts to improve and engage the community with the space took longer.

Key milestones included:

  • The willingness and enthusiasm from both the grounds manager and faculty on campus
  • Funding approved by our campus appropriations committee
  • Choosing plants and determining a planting schedule
  • Developing education and outreach materials for the food forest project
  • Ongoing class integration, tours and outreach


The project was funded by a campus decision to appropriate funds in order to invest in building a campus culture and social outdoor space for students as well as staff and faculty. Without the buy-in and support of the campus grounds team, the Cornucopia Food Forest would not have at all been possible - with the amount of care, mowing, and planting/weeding needed regularly.

Funding support was not greatly necessary after the initial construction, but addition of trees and edible shrubs in 2019 and 2020 required some approvals and funding requests. Converting an un-used lawn area to the food forest was later considered beneficial financially in that there was a reduction in staff mowing time and effort needed in the area compared to how it was managed previously, both for labor and fuel costs on the grounds team.


The Cornucopia Food Forest’s establishment has become a beloved space on campus by staff, faculty, and students. Workshops, classes, tours, and visits from the public are common throughout the year, and has created multiple opportunities to provide food to students in need through our campus food pantry resource center. Outreach and engagement use the food forest for orientation and some advertising, and the food forest is well known on campus as a space for students to study and forage, where before, only a regularly mowed lawn existed.

We have found that the food forest, modeled even in such a small space, was inspirational to other organizations and education institutions in the community to create their own orchards or food forest spaces. The food forest connects to Cascadia’s actions on sustainable grounds and land conservation by providing a healthy forest without chemical pesticides or fertilizer (which was a principle across campus since 2006). This effort has aided our campus’ commitment to Salmon-Safe Certification, and in-part, earned Cascadia College the Bee Campus USA certification in 2021, being the 2nd campus in the state to achieve this certification for protecting native bees.

Lessons Learned

One discovery not initially intended was the engagement with students in both our international programs and in our English Language Program, for secondary English learning. Students from other parts of the world recognized familiar foods growing in the space, and connected to our college through food access and outreach events!

The campus culture shifted from being impartial to grounds before construction of the food forest, to being extremely caring about the food forest, from both faculty and staff. The Cornucopia Food Forest was considered for destruction in 2021 - as a new campus building's plans encroached on the edges of the Cornucopia Food Forest, and utility drain work needed to go through the space. However, since the culture of the campus had adopted the food forest as an important part of the college, demands from staff and faculty encouraged architects and developers to work together to find ways to preserve the space, and store and replace any trees impacted by utility work. The staff and faculty had grown to appreciate the space for foraging and as a green space for recreation.

The college learned that an element such as the food forest is a stellar example of sustainability on a college campus. It demonstrated ecology of a forest, biodiversity, and connections between students, faculty, and staff for culture and food. The food forest created outreach opportunities beyond campus as well by providing unique foods from around the globe at no cost to the local community while being an inclusive experience for everyone. It showed how a college can demonstrate sustainability in an ongoing physical location, highlighting Cascadia’s sustainable campus commitment and connection with Cascadia’s sustainability bachelor program’s mission.



A view of the Food Forest sign and growing space

A view of the Food Forest sign and growing space

Photographer credit: Stephan Classen