Urban Food Forest

Wutong Foundation
Published: 19 December 2017
Last edited: 02 October 2020
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More than half of the world population live in cities, and this number is expected to increase. Cities raise many environmental and social issues such as poor biodiversity, urban heat island effect, lack of resilience, food insecurity and many more. Our integrative solution is to build food forests in cities. A food forest is a sustainable design which mimics the ecosystem of a natural forest, with food production in mind. It started in Seattle, U.S. where people came up with the idea to build a food forest on a public lawn. We introduced the concept into Taiwan and built the first public food forest in Hsinchu where a partnership was created with the local government and community. Work parties and educational events are held to engage people in holistic learning and to share the harvest with all, including nature. Our solution has provided affordable healthy food for the community and demonstrates an ecosystem-based adaptation that can care for people and land at the same time. 


East Asia
Scale of implementation
Green spaces (parks, gardens, urban forests)
Urban ecosystem and build environment
Access and benefit sharing
Biodiversity mainstreaming
Cities and infrastructure
Ecosystem services
Health and human wellbeing
Legal & policy frameworks
Local actors
Urban planning
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Ecosystem loss
Inefficient management of financial resources
Infrastructure development
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor governance and participation
Sustainable development goals
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 4 – Quality education
SDG 10 – Reduced inequalities
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 16 – Peace, justice and strong institutions
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 3: Incentives reformed
Target 4: Sustainable production and consumption
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 6: Sustainable management of aquatic living resources
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 8: Pollution reduced
Target 12: Reducing risk of extinction
Target 13: Safeguarding genetic diversity
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 16: Access to and sharing benefits from genetic resources
Target 17: Biodiversity strategies and action plans
Target 18: Traditional knowledge
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge
Target 20: Mobilizing resources from all sources


Hsinchu City, Taiwan Province Taiwan


Food forest is a design that is derived from permaculture, which has three ethical basis: care for the earth, care for people, and fair share. Each of the ethical basis addresses environmental, social and economic challenges, respectively. UN research states that concentration of urban populations increases pollution, concentrates heat which influences weather patterns, and many other problems. Thus, our solution copes with the challenges caused by urbanization, including but not limited to 1) environmental: habitat and native species loss, unstable weather patterns, soil degradation and water runoff; 2) social: individual segregation, loss of sense of belongingness, generation gap, food insecurity, imbalanced education, and the decline of human physical and mental health conditions; 3) economic: high reliance on imports and exports, loss of available farmland, overconsumption and waste due to linear economy and the concept of private property.  



The urban food forest project involves all the stakeholders of the city:  local residents, non-governmental organizations, city agencies, schools, universities, local government, and the land itself.

How do the building blocks interact?

The three building blocks: an open and participatory process, educational opportunities and resiliency all contribute towards a sustainable food production system. At the same time, this also alleviates existing urban problems such as urban heat island effect, food insecurity, imbalanced education and many others. While resiliency ensures that you have a food forest that enhances biodiversity and minimizes maintenance energy and resources, an open and participatory process ensures that a public food forest meets the needs of most people, if not all, and therefore promises actual support from the stakeholders. It would be helpful to implement an open and participatory process from the very start so that not only you will get support and objective suggestions from the stakeholders, but also potential long-term participants. People are more likely to agree with and participate in projects that they have played a deciding role in. While the above two building blocks allow you to take the right path from the start, providing educational opportunities (the 3rd building block) will ensure long-term, continuous participation for the project, contributing towards a sustainable food forest.


The urban food forest offers an attractive model to raise awareness and inspire actions. After our food forests were built on what had been a lawn with little use, we have observed a change in the landscape and active participation from people. Multiple layers of vegetation now cover the land, attracting pollinators and birds, cooling urban heat sink, and reducing water runoff and improving soil vitality. Communities gathered to share the maintenance work of the food forests, and parents made it a habit to bring children to enjoy nature.


Our food forest is a partnership effort between the community, non-governmental organizations, private sectors, and governments. The government saved their budget on maintaining the space, the people are given a space to grow food and interact with each other, and the land is taken care of. Partnerships with corporations have allowed capitalistic profits to be used to generate a bigger non-numerical profit shared by people and the environment.


Work parties and educational workshops are held to attract a wide range of people to interact with each other. The retired joined to contribute their knowledge, the young contribute creativity and receive alternative education on food security, and teachers and government officials come to learn about how they might reproduce such solutions elsewhere.



Wutong Foundation

As an environmental NGO - Wutong Foundation, raising public environmental awareness and gathering people to participate in environmental action are our basic aims. However, we have observed that since environmental problems are always severe, intangible and boring to people, it is essential that we look for fun and practical solutions to encourage people to take action.


Three years ago, we decided to visit the Beacon Food Forest in Seattle, U.S., an edible urban forest garden located on public land.  This allows neighbors to gather and work together to reduce climate impact, improve local food security, provide educational opportunities, and celebrate growing food for the benefit of all species.


The Beacon Food Forest is the first public food forest that has over a hundred volunteers dedicated to maintaining the site with minimal governmental support. What is truly amazing is that the start of this project was merely a permaculture design homework created by two citizens who later became the co-founders. I was given the privilege to attend one of the work parties at Beacon Food Forest in March 2017, where I learned about the strong sense of community there. 


We quickly understood the benefits such a project could offer Taiwan. A public food forest would offer great incentives to citizens, as well as the government, to take such environmental action as it is an almost self-sufficient system, requiring minimal human maintenance while offering many educational materials and healthy food.


Thus began the collaboration between Wutong Foundation and Beacon Food Forest. In 2015, Wutong Foundation came up with a grant to invite the co-founders of Beacon Food Forest in Seattle to share their knowledge and experience in Taiwan. The Hsinchu City government immediately agreed to implement the first urban food forest demonstration site in a public area.


I was in charge of carrying out the Hsinchu Food Forest project with help from the team. After several consultative meetings with local communities and over 30 hours of outreaching events, the Hsinchu food forest was launched in 2016. To this day, the community continues to maintain the food forest, and Wutong organizes work parties to facilitate learning of new skills.

The urban food forest is a replicable model that can be implemented in parks, demolished spaces, backyards, and even rooftops and I hope to see more food forests flourish in the cities worldwide.

Contributed by

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Jane Chen Wutong Foundation, Beacon Food Forest

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Wutong Foundation
Wutong Foundation
Wutong Foundation
Beacon Food Forest
Beacon Food Forest