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Seattle's Willy Wonka-like Food Forest

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Seattle’s Beacon Forest is the health nut’s equivalent of the chocolate waterfall room in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: Everything from the forest’s canopies to its roots is edible, fresh, and free. The food forest, sitting two miles from the city center, boasts seven acres of urban garden oasis, and the project is every bit as much of a social experiment as an agricultural one.

Forest gardening is nothing new; the practice dates back to prehistoric times, in the foothills of monsoon regions and in tropical rain forests. Forest gardens are still common in tropical regions, but it wasn’t until the early 1960s that Brit Robert Hart pioneered the practice for temperate climates. Hart cultivated a 500 square meter orchard on his farm at Wenlock Edge in Shropshire, England into a model forest garden. The British horticulturist mapped out a seven-part blueprint for his garden, and envisioned his model in more urban environments, writing:

“Obviously, few of us are in a position to restore the forests. But tens of millions of us have gardens, or access to open spaces such as industrial wastelands, where trees can be planted…and if full advantage can be taken of the potentialities that are available even in heavily built up areas, new 'city forests' can arise.”

More than 40 years later, Seattle adapted Hart’s model from top (a canopy of large fruit and nut trees) to bottom (a vertical layer of climbing plants and vines). Beacon Forest draws from the concept of permaculture: an agricultural school of thought that the forest will be both self-sustaining and perennial. The project, first drawn up in 2009 as the Jefferson Park Food Forest, earned $100 thousand from the Department of Neighborhoods in 2011 before the forest’s groundbreaking was greenlighted in 2012.

Phase one of the project keeps the experimental forest at 1.5 acres, but with Seattle Public Utilities sitting on 5.5 more, the farm may blossom to its full 7 acres. Right now, it’s the U.S.’s largest food forest on public land, though there are other like-minded projects at the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute in Basalt, Colo. and in Northampton, Mass.

With free fruits and veggies abounding for free picking, developers don’t have an answer for foragers who get a little too eager. But Glenn Herlihy, a Beacon Forest committee member, told NPR the plan is to produce an abundance of fruits so there’s enough to go around, and plant “thieves’ gardens” with a few extra seeds.

Beacon Food Forest grows everything from garden-variety apples and berries to more exotic crops like pineapples and guava—reflecting the neighborhood’s diversity. Organizers looked to the community for input: The locale’s Asian community offered the idea of Asian pears and honeyberries, and European members suggested planting medlar trees.

Eventually, garden plots in the forest will be leased out to local gardeners at ten bucks a year, and organizers plan to offer classes on basic gardening skills for the price of a few hours of volunteer work. But the idea of free, fresh food is something everyone can still get behind: even late night pundit Craig Ferguson riffed on the idea in a monologue back in March of 2012. “In downtown L.A., they are talking about building a forest like this one in Seattle," he said. "But instead of looking for berries, it’s kind of like a petting zoo: you get to hand feed Kardashians.”

Sources: National GeographicNPRWhy Don't You Try ThisForbesPermaculturedPermaculture.tvCentral Rocky Mountain Permaculture InstituteHelp Yourself NoHo.  

Google Street View Now Lets You Explore the International Space Station

Google Street View covers some amazing locations (Antarctica, the Grand Canyon, and Stonehenge, to name a few), but it’s taken until now for the tool to venture into the final frontier. As TechCrunch reports, you can now use Street View to explore the inside of the International Space Station.

The scenes, photographed by astronauts living on the ISS, include all 15 modules of the massive satellite. Viewers will be treated to true 360-degree views of the rooms and equipment onboard. Through the windows, you can see Earth from an astronaut's perspective and a SpaceX Dragon craft delivering supplies to the crew.

Because the imagery was captured in zero gravity, it’s easy to lose sense of your bearings. Get a taste of what ISS residents experience on a daily basis here.

[h/t TechCrunch]

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Lucy Quintanilla/iStock
6 East Coast Castles to Visit for a Fairy Tale Road Trip
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Lucy Quintanilla/iStock

Once the stuff of fairy tales and legends, a variety of former castles have been repurposed today as museums and event spaces. Enough of them dot the East Coast that you can plan a summer road trip to visit half a dozen in a week or two, starting in or near New York City. See our turrent-rich itinerary below.


59 miles from New York City

The crumbling exterior of Bannerman Castle
Garrett Ziegler, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Bannerman Castle can be found on its very own island in the Hudson River. Although the castle has fallen into ruins, the crumbling shell adds visual interest to the stunning Hudson Highlands views, and can be visited via walking or boat tours from May to October. The man who built the castle, Scottish immigrant Frank Bannerman, accumulated a fortune shortly after the Civil War in his Brooklyn store known as Bannerman’s. He eventually built the Scottish-style castle as both a residence and a military weapons storehouse starting in 1901. The island remained in his family until 1967, when it was given to the Taconic Park Commission; two years later it was partially destroyed by a mysterious fire, which led to its ruined appearance.


116 miles from Beacon, New York

William Gillette was an actor best known for playing Sherlock Holmes, which may have something to do with where he got the idea to install a series of hidden mirrors in his castle, using them to watch guests coming and going. The unusual-looking stone structure was built starting in 1914 on a chain of hills known as the Seven Sisters. Gillette designed many of the castle’s interior features (which feature a secret room), and also installed a railroad on the property so he could take his guests for rides. When he died in 1937 without designating any heirs, his will forbade the possession of his home by any "blithering sap-head who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.” The castle is now managed by the State of Connecticut as Gillette Castle State Park.


74 miles from East Haddam, Connecticut

The exterior of Belcourt castle
Jenna Rose Robbins, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Prominent architect Richard Morris Hunt designed Belcourt Castle for congressman and socialite Oliver Belmont in 1891. Hunt was known for his ornate style, having designed the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, but Belmont had some unusual requests. He was less interested in a building that would entertain people and more in one that would allow him to spend time with his horses—the entire first floor was designed around a carriage room and stables. Despite its grand scale, there was only one bedroom. Construction cost $3.2 million in 1894, a figure of approximately $80 million today. But around the time it was finished, Belmont was hospitalized following a mugging. It took an entire year before he saw his completed mansion.


111 miles from Newport, Rhode Island

Part of the exterior of Hammond castle
Robert Linsdell, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Inventor John Hays Hammond Jr. built his medieval-style castle between 1926 and 1929 as both his home and a showcase for his historical artifacts. But Hammond was not only interested in recreating visions of the past; he also helped shape the future. The castle was home to the Hammond Research Corporation, from which Hammond produced over 400 patents and came up with the ideas for over 800 inventions, including remote control via radio waves—which earned him the title "the Father of Remote Control." Visitors can take a self-guided tour of many of the castle’s rooms, including the great hall, indoor courtyard, Renaissance dining room, guest bedrooms, inventions exhibit room, library, and kitchens.


430 miles from Gloucester, Massachusetts

It's a long drive from Gloucester and only accessible by water, but it's worth it. The German-style castle on Heart Island was built in 1900 by millionaire hotel magnate George C. Boldt, who created the extravagant structure as a summer dream home for his wife Louise. Sadly, she passed away just months before the place was completed. The heartbroken Boldt stopped construction, leaving the property empty for over 70 years. It's now in the midst of an extensive renovation, but the ballroom, library, and several bedrooms have been recreated, and the gardens feature thousands of plants.


327 miles from Alexandria Bay, New York

Part of the exterior of Fonthill castle

In the mood for more castles? Head south to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where Fonthill Castle was the home of the early 20th century American archeologist, anthropologist, and antiquarian Henry Chapman Mercer. Mercer was a man of many interests, including paleontology, tile-making, and architecture, and his interest in the latter led him to design Fonthill Castle as a place to display his colorful tile and print collection. The inspired home is notable for its Medieval, Gothic, and Byzantine architectural styles, and with 44 rooms, there's plenty of well-decorated nooks and crannies to explore.


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