“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.

Volunteers at POP’s first school orchard planting at Hartranft Elementary at North Philly in 2008.
Philadelphia Orchard Project History: 2008
The work of the Philadelphia Orchard Project really took off in our second year.  POP hired its first staff member, Orchard Director Phil Forsyth in spring 2008.  Phil and POP’s Orchard Committee planted 7 new community orchards that year, including several that remain flagship sites today.  Working with community partners the East Park Revitalization Alliance and the Naomi Wood Trust, POP planted the Woodford Orchard, our first site on Philadelphia Parks & Recreation property and home to many future harvest festivals and events.  We also planted our first school orchard at Hartranft Elementary in North Philly in partnership with the Mural Arts Program; orchards with Historic Fair Hill and Francisville NDC; and the first of several orchards in partnership with the Teens 4 Good program of the Federation of Neighborhood Centers.  POP also installed a food forest demonstration at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington DC, with all the plant material moved to orchards sites in Philadelphia at the end of the year.

POP ORCHARDS PLANTED in 2008:  Woodford, FNC Teens 4 Good Farm @ Poplar, Historic Fair Hill, Francisville, Hartranft Elementary, Chester Ave Community Garden, Nicetown
2008 MEDIA COVERAGE: An Elf in an Orchard, Philadelphia Inquirer
2008 GOLDEN PERSIMMON VOLUNTEERS:  Kim Jordan & Bruce Schimmel
2008 POP BOARD PRESIDENT: Domenic Vitiello

POP’s food forest installation at the US Botanic Garden in Washington DC, in site of the Capitol!

 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.

I look forward to many more years of plantings, harvest festivals, fresh-pressed apple cider, and creating strong connections and new friendships in POP’s community orchards.

Tending the Woodford Orchard, planted in 2008 in partnership with the East Park Revitalization Alliance, Naomi Wood Trust, with support from Philadelphia Parks & Recreation.

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.