Every fall we ask our orchard partners to reflect on the season, to share stories with us about what the orchard provides for their community, and to let us know what they grew and harvested. We also learn what challenges they faced, which helps us plan for upcoming educational programs and training efforts. Sorry, urban orchard fans… we still don’t have any great answers for keeping squirrels away from your harvests!
Many partners from school sites echoed familiar themes. Chett Farbstein from the Philadelphia Montessori Charter School shared that “Seeing our orchard blossom during this challenging year has provided much needed inspiration to our students, staff, and community. We use the orchard as a gathering place, a play space, and an environmental ed classroom.” Many school sites will have much work to do in 2022 to catch upon deferred maintenance and care.
Below are some of our favorite excerpts from 2021, celebrating the ability of urban orchards to serve as peaceful green spaces to spend time with nature, connect with neighbors, and experience new things.
Overbrook Environmental Education Center
During an unexpected change in staffing, I was caught out without a lesson plan for a group of students visiting OEEC from in and around the neighborhood. Improvising, I decided to make the lesson an interactive tour of the gardens and orchards, focusing on common local plants and trees suitable for foraging and harvest. Because of the variety and quality of plants and trees that POP has helped us to cultivate, and the interpretive signage accompanying most species, this lesson was the most successful of the series, with many fresh snacks of gooseberries, raspberries, fennel seeds, and figs along the way. — Shay Pilot, Gardens Manager
Pearl Street Orchard (Urban Tree Connection)
We really enjoyed working closely with PowerCorps young adults to accomplish the orchard rebuild… creating an opportunity for the community to directly change the landscape of their environment after being shut-in for a whole year. We held our annual harvest party in the orchard in October; PowerCorps used it as a hands-on learning site; and community members used the orchard for their events. — Mike Jones, Community Land Steward
Penn Park Orchard
Given that our farm is immediately adjacent to the Penn Park Orchard, we are there to see the Orchard visitors. Over the last year especially, it has become a popular spot for parents to walk with their children. One child in particular was really excited to go to the Orchard, and came up to me while I was working to tell me, very proudly, all the names of the herbs/trees/plants he could name in the orchard. You can always tell when someone is discovering the orchard for the first time, and when they are frequent flyers. Either way, it is a hot spot for people wanting to get out of the house or office and go for a walk. — Emylee Fleshman, Penn Park Farm
Every year now that the orchard has matured, we are delighted by the volume of the tree fruiting crops. This year we were in awe of the cherries we finally got to enjoy. Climbing up a ladder and plucking the cherries was an honor, and a welcomed addition to our annual summer fruit trees now. We are once again blown away by our plum crops, we got a nice basket of shiro plums this year which was awesome, and so many incredibly sweet Methley Plums — it’s just the greatest feeling each summer to grow such juicy sweet peaches, plums, pears, and other stone fruits. — John Eskate, Founder and Operator
Overbrook School for the Blind
This year we had an abundance of fruit. Most of our fruit trees are young and just starting to produce. There was a week when I picked about 300lbs of plums and peaches. All of them were distributed to community food kitchens, apartment buildings and churches to be shared. Being able to share what we produce means so much to us as a community and hearing the positive feedback from those received our fruit was amazing. As our orchard continues to grow we are looking forward to many more opportunities to help, share and grow with our community. — Rich Matteo, main orchard tender
Nice Roots Farm at Share Food Program
One volunteer had never heard of persimmons before. I gave him one to try right off the tree and his world was turned upside down. When he came back next time to volunteer, he told me he had gone to numerous grocery stores just to find persimmons. He also told his family all about this new fruit. These are the kind of experiences we want to provide the community. We want to educate about foods they may not even know exist in their region and also inspire awe. — Ellie Kaplan, Farm Manager
The Gardens at South Philadelphia HS
We are most pleased with students visiting and working in the orchard on a regular basis during the school year. We had our first workshop with Miss Corrie and the students loved it. We provide community composting and have many participants thru word of mouth who just drop off compost. One composter is now a regular volunteer. We continue to learn everyday… We really appreciate our new plant labels! It helps for visitors and passersby; it adds credibility and value. — Patricia Anne Tahan, Neighbor Liaison
This blog post was prepared by POP Co-Executive Director Kim Jordan.
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