“This is the power of community orchards. They inspire, they lift spirits, they demonstrate resiliency, and they bring people together around that greatest of common denominators – food. ” -Ryan Kuck, 2014 Golden Persimmon Volunteer
In honor of the Philadelphia Orchard Project’s 10th anniversary in 2017, we’re looking back at a different year in our history every month. We’re also designating Golden Persimmon Awards for each year in recognition of the extraordinary efforts of our volunteers.
Philadelphia Orchard Project History: 2014
POP again expanded our programming in 2014 by bringing on new staff in Robyn Mello as our Education & Outreach Director. Among other things, Robyn started our POPHarvest gleaning program to pick and distribute fruit that would otherwise go to waste and to educate the public about abundant but neglected fruit in the city. New planting sites in 2014 included assisting with design and planting of a multi-acre orchard with the Philadelphia Prison System and a demonstration orchard at Penn Park on UPenn’s campus. Our 4th annual Orchard Day expanded to Philadelphia Orchard Weekend, involving over 1700 participants in harvest festivals and other events at orchards across the city. POP’s Executive Director Phil Forsyth presented a TEDx talk on the value of urban community orchards.
POP ORCHARDS PLANTED in 2014: St James United Methodist, Penn Park, Philadelphia Prison Systems, Gorgas Park, Tablespread Farm
Ryan Kuck volunteered on POP’s Board and Orchard Committee from 2007 through 2011. He continues to help maintain fruit trees and community orchards in the Belmont neighborhood and currently serves as Executive Director of Greensgrow Farms.
I was just in NYC the other weekend visiting the first official permaculture project in a city park. “Really?” I said. “In Philly we’ve been doing this for over 10 years!” In New York there is an ordinance specifically prohibiting foraging from park land. But I’m watching a few dozen families come and go through this rather nondescript pilot project in the Bronx, excitedly finding edible herbs and flowers, showing their friends and children, and carrying their treasures back home. Given the enormous chip Philly has on its shoulder about being a forgotten sibling to New York, it’s nice to see this city so far ahead of the curve on the powers of community-based food forests. NYC’s got nothing on us!
I started volunteering with POP in 2007, having done a few guerilla plantings around the city that couldn’t quite attract enough attention to build a movement. It is remarkable what POP has accomplished over that time, and I brag to anyone that will listen that I have 30 fruit trees growing within 3 blocks of my house. We embarked on an ambitious project to build 10 permanent garden spaces in our neighborhood of Belmont with community partners. We knew we didn’t want to replicate the fragile system of growing on vacant land, but rather sought to build a resilient network that improved community-owned assets through agriculture. We started with annual vegetables but slowly the gardens sprouted fruit trees and perennials. It can be hard to maintain a raised bed, or to convince someone unfamiliar that rainbow chard is worth a try, but everyone knows what a cherry is. We had kids and got busy with life, and most of the gardens found other caretakers. And the fruit trees just keep growing. Even when a group of rowdy kids climb branches a bit too small to reach those highest fruits and snap a limb, those trees keep shooting for the sky and defiantly producing another bushel.
Yesterday a woman walked by our house and in her hand was a persimmon that a neighbor had helped her pick from the nearby Ogden Gardens orchard site. When she saw that our garden also had a tree full of ripening persimmons, she flagged us down and exclaimed: “My son just tasted one of these at a program in his school- I can’t believe they’re growing in our neighborhood!”
This is the power of community orchards. They inspire, they lift spirits, they demonstrate resiliency, and they bring people together around that greatest of common denominators – food.
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