Every year we ask our orchard partners to reflect on the season and to share stories with us about what the orchard provides for their community. We are grateful to those partners who were able to take the time to respond to this year’s survey. A few major themes emerged in 2020: the vital importance of access to outdoor spaces, and the positive impact of neighborhood-based food production. Below are some of our favorite excerpts from this challenging year, celebrating the ability of city orchards to serve as an engaging places of discovery, connection, and abundance.
Sankofa Community Farm @ Bartram’s Garden
In a pandemic it is our public outdoor spaces that have helped provide people who live in the city a connection to the land. There was an uptick in visitors and neighbors that frequented the farm and orchard, sometimes avoiding the “Please don’t pick without permission signs” but most could be seen reading the signs and wandering amongst the trees.
— Ty Holmberg
Share Food Program
Every volunteer that visited this orchard this year was astonished and pleased with either the aesthetic of the orchard, what was growing in the orchard (like goumis or plums or elderberry or jujubes or persimmons), or how amazing things like the mulberries and strawberries tasted.
— Breah Banks
St Raymond’s House, Depaul USA
Volunteers from POP and Depaul planted a food forest on the site in 2020 in the space of a formerly unproductive lawn. The community input meetings and planting days helped to foster a sense of belonging amongst the residents in their neighborhood.
— Sandra Guilory
Weavers Way Farms Henry Got Crops
Throughout the pandemic we have continued to host monthly volunteer days. While we needed to cap attendance to keep them safe, the orchard served as a great way to work while still socially distancing. Everyone could mulch their own tree and stay safely away from others. Multiple people told me what a lifeline these volunteer opportunities were for them during their isolating time at home. We had many repeat volunteers who really looked forward to coming out and volunteering with us every month.
— Nina Berryman
FNC Community Learning Farm at 8th & Poplar
One of our youth, who lives across the street, has been coming to the farm since she was 5 years old. She is now 9, and moves about the farm with such comfort, knowledge and curiosity. This year we got an orchard ladder, and S was able to climb up into our Asian Pear trees and pick pears for market. She was so excited to pick a new fruit, and said she felt on top of the world at the top of that ladder.
— Marta Lynch
St Bernard Community Garden
While in a normal season we have group work days to stay on top of the biggest orchard care tasks together, in this season when gathering was not an option, we largely relied on individual gardeners making the effort to weed, water, and otherwise tend to things on their own time. Fortunately we had no shortage of willing hands—a testament to how treasured this resource is by the community that cares for it. For many of us the orchard has provided a safe and peaceful place to be this year when such places seem difficult to find.
— A volunteer from the St Bernard Community Garden
Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Center
This summer our normal programs were cancelled due to COVID-19. However, I was able to set up Harvest days on Tuesdays at noon. Throughout the course of the summer, I was able to meet neighbors and introduce them to the herbs, plums, and pears we harvested, as well as to the vegetables in our two raised beds that were from Philadelphia’s Junior Farmer program. Neighbors were quite appreciative and surprised. We developed a small, loyal following. A chef stopped by early in the summer; she wanted a sampling of all the herbs, so she could try them in different recipes! It was a great community building experience!
— Susan Haidar
Norris Square Neighborhood Project
Community gardeners have expressed an interest in medicinal herbs. By relating this information to POP, they were able to provide native and pollinator plants that served a dual purpose to include medicinal. Members felt heard and appreciated the expertise and plants provided by POP.
— Jose Spellman-Lopez, Pearl St Orchard
Aside from our visitors loving our strawberries every June, this year was marked with the first fruits of our Methley Plum tree, and a bountiful harvest of Chicago Hardy Figs. It’s so rewarding to share the fruits of our small orchard with our community members through our Farm Market. The plum tree was one of our original orchard plantings five years ago, and to see it get bigger each season without any fruits was a challenge in patience.
— John Eskate
UBC Garden of Eden
During this challenging year because of the Pandemic, our garden has been closed for public programs and to visit. Since Spring, we were refocusing on training and educating a group of neighbors who are devoted to learning/volunteering at our garden. This group was later recruited as our volunteer garden crew. From the start, our garden crew learned from POP and us to take care and manage our orchard and vegetable plots. They also love to be able to bring home healthy fresh fruits and vegetables for their families. We also shared any extra harvest to other neighbors since our soup kitchen is closed this year due to the Pandemic.
— Meei Ling Ng
During this challenging year, we were able to pivot and safely continue our Youth Farm Stand program, supplying fresh produce to our neighborhood and employing the young adults we work with at a time most of their options for youth engagement and activities were taken away. While connection all around us was limited, maintaining a connection to the earth and plants, within our farm team, and in our interactions with customers kept the spirits up.
— Michael Muehlbauer
Carousel House Farm
Every year we struggle with production for many of our trees, and this year was no different. However, this was the first [year] we had a peach harvest, and it was very exciting!! It was special because Alkebu-Lan helped me prune and taught me about brown rot so I took a little extra care of the tree this year, which maybe helped yield the results. It was a joyous moment during a really hard time.
— Kim Cook, Carousel House Farm
Overbrook School for the Blind
Sadly there are not many orchard stories this year. But we have been fortunate enough to donate a majority of the food that was harvested to local food banks. So even though the orchard has not been utilized as we normally do. The orchard was still able to help others in need.
— Lee Stough
In reading and learning from the stories that POP’s partners shared about this year, we remain grateful for our work together in partnership to advance food justice, access to outdoor spaces, and care for each other. Partners faced challenges ranging from the usual pests and diseases, to not having access to properly care for their spaces, to lacking the volunteers to harvest fruit. But, many also shared that even more neighbors than before learned about their garden or food forest, and came to help for the first time, or learned about a new fruit. Many expressed a similar thought to Michael Wilcox from the Hunting Park Community Garden and Orchard: “In spite of all the happenings, our story remains to be that we will continue to work to create a space to grow healthy food for the community.”
In addition to sharing the stories above, POP partners also let us know where more help is needed: we hear you! Continuing to provide the hands-on support and training, coordinating volunteer days, providing plant materials, assistance with seasonal pruning, and helping to ensure orchards become more productive are the types of requests we see each year, and we will continue to do our best to meet these demands. You can help us by: signing up for our volunteer emails, starting a monthly donation or making the gift of a tree in celebration of a loved one, or following us on Facebook and Instagram and sharing info about POP with your friends and family.
This blog post was prepared by POP Co-Executive Director Kim Jordan.
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.