In this challenging year, POP staff and volunteers have been grateful for the opportunity to establish and engage with the POP Learning Orchard at The Woodlands and other infrastructure at POP’s new headquarters. Although the pandemic limited the scope of public programs and volunteer opportunities this year, these efforts felt more vital than ever under the circumstances of increased community need. Through weekly work days held from spring through fall, a small team of POP staff, interns, and dedicated Lead Orchard Volunteers helped plant, maintain, harvest, and distribute produce from this new one-acre orchard space.

Check out this virtual tour of the new POP Learning Orchard at The Woodlands by Alkebu-Lan Marcus and Phil Forsyth!

Over the course of the year, the Learning Orchard team helped to plant 90 fruit and nut trees; 156 berry bushes, shrubs and fruiting vines; and 410 perennial flowers and herbs. The orchard contains both native and heirloom plants, restoring a small piece of the historic edible landscape of both William Hamilton and earlier Lenni-Lenape land stewards. The space is designed for education, inspiration, and engagement with the environment and will serve as a vital education hub for sharing best practices in ecological orchard care with POP community partners, volunteers, and the general public. The POP Learning Orchard will also serve a vital function as a space to try out new plants and techniques and train new interns, apprentices, and volunteers.

It’s been an anchor of sanity. In times that have felt very uncertain, I have control. . . I can contribute to the health of my community in a small way every week.”

-Sara Ray, Lead Orchard Volunteer for The POP Learning Orchard at The Woodlands
Phil Forsyth presents this year’s Golden Persimmon award to Sara Ray, one of the Lead Orchard Volunteers at The Woodlands.

Given the economic impact of the pandemic and heightened community need for emergency food access, POP quickly shifted spring plans to focus on growing as many vegetables for donation as possible which would be ready for harvest this year. The Learning Orchard team interplanted a wide variety of annual crops between the young fruit trees and berry bushes; the trees will take some years to mature, while the berry bushes should start producing fruit next year, but the immense need demanded a quicker response. Despite numerous growing challenges from deer to squirrels to vine borers, the team grew and donated over 1400 pounds of fresh produce to families in need via local distribution partners Food Not Bombs and Bunnyhop:

POP Lead Orchard Volunteer Taylor with collard harvest!
POP Lead Orchard Volunteer Taylor with collard harvest!
  • 695 pounds of winter squash
  • 230 pounds of zucchini
  • 170 pounds of collard greens
  • 127 pounds of watermelon
  • 82 pounds of kale
  • 49 pounds of string beans
  • 46 pounds of scallions
  • 43 pounds of musk melons
  • 9 pounds of basil
  • 5 pounds of cucumbers

POP also helped harvest and distribute another 316 pounds of fruit and vegetables grown by our partner site the Penn Park Orchard and Farm. In addition to produce grown for donation, POP collaborated with True Love Seeds in growing and saving heirloom seed varieties. The Landreth Stringless Bush Bean is a historic variety originating with the Philadelphia-based David Landreth & Sons seed company in 1885. Clemson Spineless Okra is a significant historic variety dating to 1939 that POP Orchard Director Alkebu-Lan has been growing in partnership with True Love for years. Both should be available in the True Love catalog for spring planting.

“We are so grateful for all the fresh produce POP grew and donated this year.  When we ask our people what food would really bring them joy, the most common answer from elders by far is ‘collard greens’.  We really believe everyone deserves access to joyful as well as sustaining food and fresh collards are an item rarely available from our other sources.” 

-Tony Larson, Food Not Bombs
Staff and volunteers unload plants at POP's new edible plant nursery at The Woodlands in November 2020.
Staff and volunteers unload plants at POP’s new edible plant nursery at The Woodlands in November 2020.

The POP Learning Orchard is the first phase of POP’s new headquarters at The Woodlands. In fall 2020, staff and volunteers constructed a new edible plant nursery space and moved all plant materials from POP’s old nursery space at Awbury Arboretum to The Woodlands. The nursery will serve to propagate native and heirloom fruit cultivars and grow out a wide range of orchard plant materials for planting at community orchards across the city. Other future infrastructure plans include high tunnels and a climate battery greenhouse to explore and expand the range of fruits that can be grown in Philadelphia; a “barn” to house equipment and materials; and a solar array to power all infrastructure without the use of fossil fuels.

Woodlands Facilities & Landscape Manager Robin Rick, volunteer Joe Shapiro, and POP Co-Director Phil Forsyth at the new sign installed at the POP Learning Orchard entrance in November 2020.
Woodlands Facilities & Landscape Manager Robin Rick, volunteer Joe Shapiro, and POP Co-Director Phil Forsyth at the new sign installed at the POP Learning Orchard entrance in November 2020.

ORGANIZATION BACKGROUNDS

The Woodlands’ 54-acre undulating landscape is at once a one-of-a-kind 18th-century English pleasure garden, 19th-century rural cemetery, and a modern green oasis for its neighbors in bustling University City and West Philadelphia. The Woodlands was designated a National Historic Landmark District in recognition of its unique history and rich resources. Today, the mission of The Woodlands is to enrich the lives of area residents and visitors by serving as a hub for activities and educational programs that interpret, celebrate and make available to the public The Woodlands’ historic buildings and rich and tranquil green space. More information about The Woodlands is available via the organization’s website: www.woodlandsphila.org or on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @woodlandsphila

The Philadelphia Orchard Project was founded in 2007 with a mission to plant and support community orchards in the city of Philadelphia, improving access to nutritious food and creating beautiful and bountiful green spaces. Orchards, primarily located in low-wealth neighborhoods, are owned, maintained, and harvested by the community. POP orchards contain a variety of fruit and nut trees, berry bushes and vines, herbs, pollinator gardens, and other useful and edible perennials. Follow POP on Facebook @PhiladelphiaOrchardProject, or on Instagram and Twitter @phillyorchards.

The POP Learning Orchard team was joined by volunteers from the Junior League of Philadelphia in planting pollinator gardens in October 2020.

Founded in 1912, the Junior League of Philadelphia (JLP) is an organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women, and improving the community through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable. The JLP is also a member of the Association of Junior Leagues International (AJLI), with 291 Leagues globally. The JLP is the primary sponsor of the POP Learning Orchard at The Woodlands.

This blog post was prepared by POP Co-Executive Director Phil Forsyth.

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.