Volunteers gather at Casa Del Carmen after a productive day of orchard planting in 2016

Part of Catholic Social ServicesCasa Del Carmen is a bilingual, bicultural family service center in North Philadelphia that’s provided over 50 years of service to the Latino immigrant community in Hunting Park (4400 N Reese St, 19140). Last year, 21,000 people were impacted by Casa’s work in the spirit of ‘nuestra casa es su casa‘ (‘our house is your house’) ensuring that all clients have their basic needs for survival met with access to two food markets, a clothing bank, nutrition education, rent/mortgage and utility assistance, public assistance counselors, maternity education, ESL, and preschool offerings for young children.

Casa’s food program is a central component to their work, as administrator Chris Gale says, and their approach is unique. In partnership with the Coalition Against Hunger and The Green Light Market, only one of two in Philadelphia, Casa offers a food market for clients where they can select from fruits and vegetables grown in Casa’s backyard, frozen meats, and nonperishables. In fall 2015, Casa and partners took providing empowering food access one step further through partnering with the Philadelphia Orchard Project to turn what once was a grassy largely underutilized backyard garden into a fully realized orchard with fruit tree plantings, berry vines and bushes, and a perennial herb understory.

Although the orchard has yet to generate a sizable harvest, still being in its infancy, Gale says they anticipate the orchard being a major component of Casa’s nutrition program and food markets. “We’d like to see clients tending the orchard and being able to pick the fruit right from the trees.” Another way Gale sees the orchard space as integrated into Casa’s larger programming is through preschool program. “The children are already back there everyday because the playground is back there, but I dream of using the orchard as a living classroom, teaching the children nutrition and basic biology through the site.”

Staff members Janet DeJesus, Miguel Trigo, and John Hernandez have taken ownership of the site to make sure all is growing well in between quarterly POP visits to the site to check on the health of the plantings. Gale calls the orchard space “truly a greater Philadelphia effort” with estimates that nearly 100 volunteers from Villanova, Temple, Drexel, La Salle, Friends Central and the Junior League have helped to plant or maintain the site during days of service.

Resource tent for new mothers at Casa’s Community Baby Shower

“We’re still waiting for fruit,” Gale says, “but we’re very excited about the thought of harvests with the community.” In the meantime, clients can look forward to Casa’s other main programming including the Community Babyshower coming up on April 21st and again in August, where new and expectant mothers can tap into community resources and enjoy raffles, food, and music during the big celebration that’s held in Casa’s parking lot. To learn more about Casa’s work, visit their site here. 

This POP Partner Feature written by Education Director Alyssa Schimmel.

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.