“One of the most fun and fulfilling experiences as a POP volunteer has been to interact with kids who are there to help, learn, and explore.” -Kim Jordan, 2008 POP Golden Persimmon volunteer
In honor of the Philadelphia Orchard Project’s 10th anniversary in 2017, we’ll be looking back at a different year in our history every month. We’ll also designate Golden Persimmon Awards for each year in recognition of the extraordinary efforts of our volunteers.
One of the most fun and fulfilling experiences as a POP volunteer has been to interact with kids who are there to help, learn, and explore. Besides the joy of being outside and digging around in the dirt, which may be an uncommon experience for city dwellers with concrete backyards or no outdoor space to speak of, each volunteer experience at a community orchard provides unexpected opportunities for informal learning for people from all over the city. My favorite memories are from the many potlucks and harvest festivals that have occurred over the years: even if you don’t know the person next to you, you can connect over sharing a handful of raspberries or a freshly picked fig.
I moved to Philadelphia in 2004, and first met some of POP’s founding members due to my involvement in local politics. Having grown up in California’s San Francisco Bay Area, I thought it was a novelty to live in a swing state. After volunteering on some unsuccessful campaigns for progressive candidates and after learning about the Philadelphia political scene— I decided to join friends in trying to promote the idea of planting community orchards in some of Philly’s 40,000 vacant lots and began volunteering with POP in 2007.
I grew up with apricot, apple, orange and almond trees in my backyard, but with minimal horticultural experience: I was glad others brought that expertise, namely POP’s founding Executive Director, Phil Forsyth. What attracted me to POP was the opportunity to do something positive: bringing beauty along with the added benefit of fresh fruit to neighborhoods lacking access to produce. Even knowing that fruit trees can take years to mature, we thought these community orchards, planted in large numbers across the city, would contribute to lowering food insecurity. We’ve since learned that although established orchards produce hundreds of pounds of fruit distributed within the surrounding community, POP orchards are most admired for their educational opportunities and for creating beautiful and welcoming green spaces.
Getting to know some of Philly’s less-visited neighborhoods and working alongside people who cared deeply about improving their community spaces, affected me deeply as I continued to visit the same orchards and see them develop from year to year. Personally, my experiences with POP starting as a volunteer, then later as a Board member serving as President, Vice President, and Treasurer, caused me to change my career path and to remain in Philadelphia rather than moving back to the West Coast. Instead of becoming an academic research scientist as I intended to do when initially moving here, I now work at a nonprofit that supports the city’s parks and I continue to volunteer with POP to help plant and support orchards, and strengthen communities.
SUPPORT US! If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate.