Survey Participation

In 2023, POP added 2 new orchard sites to its list of partners: Get Fresh Daily and West Philly Peace Park. In all, 48 of 66 POP partners (72%) participated in our annual Partner Survey in November and December, including 37 of 51 full partners (72%) and 11 of 15 supported partners (73%). This is typical of participation rates over the last 5 years.  A few respondents included information compiled for multiple orchards that they or their organizations steward, so some numbers and responses were adjusted to best average and extrapolate data. 

Some key data from the Organizational and Demographics section:

  • According to survey responses, 8 of our orchard partners (12%) are going through staff or organizational transitions.
  • Out of 48 responses, 24 partners (50%) reported having BIPOC ( Black, Indigenous, Person of Color) leadership.
  • Out of 48 responses, 27 (56%) of our partners reported having paid staff on site. 
Planting day at West Philly Peace Park, May 2023. Phot Credit: West Philly Peace Park.

Orchard Value

Orchards can provide many different benefits, and communities engage with them in many different ways. POP strives to be responsive and dynamic in how we support our many partners and their diverse needs. 

We asked: What aspect of the orchard was Most Important for your community this year? We also asked: What was Least Important

There were 6 options to select from: Food Production and Distribution, Gathering and Community Space, Learning Opportunities, Environmental Impact, and Community Health and Nutrition. 45 partners responded to this question.

The most common responses for MOST important were “Gathering and Community Space” and “Learning Opportunities,” each with 12 (27%) instances. “Food Production and Distribution” had 10 (22%) instances. Another common response was “Beauty and Neighborhood Greening” with 8 (18%) instances.

Folks gathering in the Grumblethorpe Orchard for the 5th annual Ginkgo Roast, November 2023. Photo credit: Melissa Simpson.

The most common response for LEAST important was “Beauty and Neighborhood Greening” with 11 (24%) instances. “Learning Opportunities” had 10 (22%) instances. “Environmental Impact” and “Food Production and Distribution” each had 7 (16%) instances. “Community Health and Nutrition” had 6 (13%) instances. 

There was a notable alignment for “Gathering and Community Space” which was ranked at the top of Most Important and bottom of Least Important. Besides that, the data confirms that POP orchards offer a variety of benefits and opportunities that community partners engage with in diverse ways.

We also asked partners to: Tell us one story from this year that illustrates the value of the orchard to you or your community

The vast majority of stories talked about the power of orchards to bring people together and build community across generations and cultures. They mentioned the value of coming together to learn and work around food and the land, and many partners were particularly excited about youth engagement. 

Youth from Norris Square Neighborhood Project’s Raices Crew planting bare root strawberries in the fall. Photo credit: POP

This highlights that the importance and benefits of orchards are not only diverse, but often complementary and intersectional. The stories show how community, learning, food, health, nature, and beauty come together.

Penn Park shared: “The orchard brings so much joy to people of every age! I often see kids, college students, and elders walking through the space and sharing the fruits they find.”

Historic Fair Hill responded: “The kids and neighbors helped to harvest every Saturday while fruits were available. Kids were so excited and dedicated to help. This made me feel like we made an impact in their lives. I never knew that fruit trees would have such an impact.”

Sankofa Community Farms at Bartram’s Garden responded:  “What matters most are our large community volunteer days where people of all different backgrounds work side by side sharing stories of their food, culture and traditions. There is nothing like working hard on the land and food that can bring people together. And fruit brings that sweetness which makes it easier.”

For more stories check out 2023 Orchard Partner Stories.

POP Orchard Director Sharon Appiah, looking back at the camera, and volunteers at a spring workday at Penn Park community orchard. Photo credit: POP

Community Involvement

A set of questions were asked to assess the number of people involved with and affected by our orchards.  Surveys reported:

  • At least 290 people participated regularly (at least monthly) in orchard care throughout the city in 2023, on trend with the past several years. 
  • Nearly 2,000 people participated at least once in orchard care in 2023. This was a decrease from an average of 2,607 participants during the 2022 and 2021 seasons. Prior levels were 745 in 2020 and 3,072 in 2019.
  • We were curious to know if the trend to carry out organized maintenance on a more frequent basis would continue, and it did, with 26% of partners reporting organized work days at least once per week, compared to 21% in 2022 and 9% in 2021. Similarly to the past two years, around three-quarters of partners carried out orchard maintenance work days at least once per month. The remainder reported these happening quarterly or even less frequently.
  • There was an increased number of people who tasted something grown in a POP supported orchard, with over 5,600 people getting to try freshly harvested fruit in 2023. This is in contrast to 2022 when climate challenges seemed to impact harvests, with only 4,656 getting to try fruit from a community orchard in 2022. vs 6,933 in 2021. This compares to 3,895 people tasting something grown in a partner orchard in 2020 and 6,532 in 2019.
  • The most people since 2019 were reported to have used a partner orchard as a gathering space: 8,062. This compares to 6,576 people in 2022, a slight decrease from 2021 when partners reported a total of 7,306 people. A sharp drop to 3,699 people was seen for obvious reasons in 2020.
  • We were thrilled to see an increase in the number of people who participated in educational programs at orchards in 2023, which was up to 3,661! The pandemic years really did a number on the use of community orchards as educational spaces, with partners reporting 2,183 people in 2022, and 2,055 people in 2021, increases from the 544 people reported to have done the same in 2020. The numbers of educational program participants for 2023 was getting closer to what was seen pre-pandemic: 4,031 people in 2019. 
Yaya Vallis leading an Afro-herbalism workshop on Elderberry medicine at Mill Creek Urban Farm, August 2023. Photo credit: POP

Some sites shared some specific ways they used and enjoyed their orchards in 2023. Chester Ave Community Garden, a volunteer-led site, shares that their orchard is “an ongoing experiment in joy and chaos and food.” Overbrook School for the Blind reported that their orchard “was used by our orientation and mobility program to work on navigating the world and the obstacles around us.” Orchards served as outdoor classrooms, sanctuaries, memorial spaces, and workshop sites. Visitors wandered and explored, learned about new or culturally significant plants, and even went on bird-watching excursions.


Distribution methods vary from one group to another, as expected from different distribution plans submitted in partner applications and the varying missions of partner orchards. The main distribution methods are: directly harvested by or distributed to community members for free; farmers markets and CSA memberships; turning fruit into value added products; and donated to emergency food services.

If averaging distribution methods across all partners that participated in the survey, each partner weighted equally, the percentages of distribution methods were:

  • 50% of total yield across reporting partners was distributed for free (and/or harvested directly) by volunteer and community members (compared to 66% in 2022, 31% in 2021, 49% in 2020 and 48% in 2019.
  • 10% were donated to emergency food centers or mutual aid efforts (compared to 7% in 2022, 10% in 2021, 4% 2019)
  • 17% were sold on site (compared to 6% in 2022, 24% in 2021, 25% 2019)
  • 11% were sold off site (compared to 6% in 2022, 16% in 2021, 11% 2019)
  • 2% were processed into value added products (compared to 6% in 2022, 4% in 2021, 2% 2019).
September 2023 harvest of cherry tomatoes, figs, grapes, and groundcherries from the POP Learning Orchard headed towards community fridges. Photo credit: POP

The percentage of the yield donated to emergency food centers and harvests sold on and off site increased from previous years. Harvests that were distributed for free and processed into value added products decreased from previous years. This is in part due to the selection of partners that participated in the survey, but also perhaps influenced by the shift in the pandemic and slightly lower usage of community fridges compared to the past few years.

Viable harvest that went unused displayed similar patterns across participating partners. The main reasons for unused harvests were squirrels and groundhogs, fruit taken without permission, out of reach fruit, unfamiliarity with fruit and how to use it, and lack of capacity. These are also the main challenges around distribution that partners experienced.

Orchard Production

This section is for the data gathering and evaluation of yield by plant type where available. It is difficult to accurately track yield between spaces that are used in a wide variety of ways by different partners, including public spaces, organizations with limited or no staff, and where free harvest from community members is encouraged. In 2023, POP partners reported harvesting 11,733 lbs, a staggering number compared to previous years. This is over double the amount that was harvested last year and previous years (4620 lbs in 2022, 6264 lbs in 2021, 2924 lbs in 2020, and 4437 lbs in 2019). This large increase in yield numbers is likely due to the dry spring season which reduced disease pressure in the orchard. 

Peaches from Strawberry Mansion. With the dry weather, it was a great year for stone fruits!
Photo Credit: POP

Production totals

  • 0-25 lbs: 12 site
  • 26-50 lbs.: 7 site
  • 51-100 lbs.:  3 sites
  • 101-299 lbs.: 12 sites
  • 300-500 lbs.: 6 sites
  • 500-1000 lbs.: 3 sites
  • 1000-2000 lbs.: 3 sites
  • 2000- 4000 lbs.: 1 site

Production Challenges

Despite the highly successful harvest compared to previous years at POP orchard partner sites, there were still some production challenges along the way. The spring and early summer had very little rainfall (rainfall in May was 0.2 inches versus average  May rainfall of 3.88 inches), which was helpful in reducing disease presence, but also resulted in drought conditions once it became summer. With droughts, there is not only a deficit of water but an excess of heat. Beyond reducing plant growth and fruit size, a lack of water will also reduce the following year’s fruit set. The excessively high heat during the summer made for increased burden in watering, as well as challenging working conditions. Fire blight was found in more trees this year than previous years. And each year, there appears to be an ever-increasing challenge with squirrel and bird predation on the fruit that did manage to grow. Squirrels are especially an issue in areas with large trees in the surrounding area.

Young vs Mature Orchard Yields

Figs harvest from the POP Learning Orchard. In its fourth year of production, we harvested 124 lbs off of 7 varieties of fig trees.
Photo Credit: POP

Every few years, we attempt to collect data from our partners that allows us to see the trends of harvest yield per tree for both young and mature orchards. The trees producing the most abundant fruit yield are clear – figs, paw paws, and persimmons. 

For young orchards (up to 5 years old) we have seen that figs showed the highest return per fruit tree by far, followed by paw paws and persimmons. 

For mature orchards (6 years plus) persimmons showed the highest return per fruit tree, followed closely by paw paws, with figs coming in a solid third. 

Recorded Harvests

Poundage from fruit & nut trees based on reported yields are listed in order from highest to lowest yield:

  • Asian pears: 1664.34 pounds; (114.6-2022, 357.5-2021) 
  • Paw paws: 1638.69 pounds (1818-2022, 1799.1-2021)
  • Figs: 1206.595 pounds (587.8- 2022, 736.1-2021) 
  • Plums: 978.79 pounds (24-2022, 456.4-2021) 
  • Pie cherries: 848.4 pounds (80.65-2022,  204.5-2021) 
  • Persimmons: 724.525 pounds (332.6-2022, 410-2021) 
  • Sweet cherries: 614.25 pounds (78-2022, 247-2021) 
  • Apples: 470.78 pounds  (216-2022, 194.33-2021) 
  • Peaches/nectarines: 355.88 pounds (97-2022, 425-2021) 
  • Mulberries: 175 pounds (68.8-2022, 89-2021) 
  • European Pears: 152.5 pounds  (39-2022, 278-2021)
  • Almonds: 143 pounds (5-2022, 40-2021)
  • Chestnuts: 143 pounds (44-2022, 50-2021 
  • Serviceberries:  80 pounds (34-2022, 26.25-2021) 
  • Medlar: 65 pounds (0-2022, 10-2021) 
  • Hazelnuts: 40 pounds (0-2022, 46-2021)
  • Jujubes: 19.6 pounds (0-2023, 7-2021)
  • Apricots: 15 pounds (3-2022,  27-2021)
  • Pomegranate: 5 pounds

Analysis of results:

  • All of the fruit yields increased from previous years except for pawpaws, which had a slightly lower yield this year compared to previous years.The stone fruit and pome fruit did substantially better this year compared to previous years. This is likely due to the dry spring which resulted in fewer fungal pathogens. Apple cedar rust was less of a problem this year compared to last year. This explains the high juneberry harvest, a fruit that is often largely impacted by apple cedar rust. Pomegranate had its first recorded harvest this year.
Juneberries from Penn Park. Dry weather also meant much lower rates of cedar apple rust Photo Credit: PO

Poundage from brambles, shrubs, and vines based on reported yields are listed in order from highest to lowest yield:

  • Blackberries: 714.828  pounds (344.45-2022, 374.75-2021)
  • Strawberries: 547.19 pounds (197.24-2022, 46-2021, 189-2020, 264-2019) 
  • Raspberries: 245.121 pounds (124-2022, 236.5-2021, 138.6-2020, 167.3-2019) 
  • Grapes: 217.75 pounds (88.19-2022, 43.5-2021, 61-2020, 197.8-2019) 
  • Elderberries: 114.96 pounds (91.35-2022, 79-2021, 32-2020, 42.5-2019) 
  • Blueberries: 111.8 pounds (61.35-2022, 56.45-2021, 39-2020, 51-2019) 
  • Goumis: 73.41 pounds (43.24-2022, 26.9-2021, 12.25-2020, 10.9-2019)
  • Chokeberry: 64.47 pounds
  • Nanking Cherries: 55.73 pounds (0-2022, 11-2021, 8-2020, 65.1-2019)
  • Hardy kiwis: 47.7 pounds (13.2-2022, 170-2021, 31.3-2020, 32-2019) 
  • Maypop: 41.56 pounds
  • Currants: 29.32 pounds (18.8-2022, 25.7-2021, 5.25-2020, 17.75-2019) 
  • Gooseberries: 20.49 pounds (16.7-2022, 15.5 -2021, 10.6-2020, 38-2019)
  • Other: Jostaberries (no weight recorded)

Analysis of results:

  • All of the yields increased. Previous crops that were not recorded in previous years but accounted for this year were maypops and chokeberries.

Herbs and Perennial Vegetables 

The yields of herbs and perennial vegetables went largely unrecorded. Though the only perennial vegetables that were grown and harvested at POP partner sites–at least according to the survey respondents– were cucamelon and sunchokes.  A wide variety of herbs were grown at POP partner sites. These included basil, oregano, catmint, parsley, fennel, thyme, mugwort, and yarrow. Lemon balm and mint have the highest reported yields. 

Many partners expressed interest in learning how to grow and use commons weeds like cleaver and mugwort; wildflowers like yarrow, rudbeckia, solomon seal, anise hyssop, and coneflower; and perennial vegetables like horseradish, hopniss, fennel, rhubarb, asparagus, artichokes, comfrey, sorrel, and garlic chives. Based on the survey, it appears that the majority of the sites want to diversify their production

Orchard Education Efforts

POP offers workshops on both orchard care (16 in 2023) and harvest education (8 in 2023) . In 2023, there was a focus on propagation (Topgrafting, Benchgrafting, Fig Propagation, Paw Paw Grafting). Four workshops were planned and marketed in collaboration with the hosting orchard partner (Juntos Podamos with Historic Fairhill, Fire Cider at NLPP, Elderberry Syrup at Mill Creek, and Salve making with NSNP). 

POP LOV, Ainhoa Woodley, co-teaching our first ever Spanish-speakers pruning workshop at Historic Fair Hill.
Photo Credit: POP

POP Resources in order of utilization by POP partners (reporting often or occasional use):

POP Pest and Disease Guide, PHOG Emails, Monthly Orchard Task List, Weed ID Guide, Blog Posts, Instagram Posts, POP Pruning Videos, Recipes and DIY Info Sheets, Plant Info Sheets, Community Organizing Toolkit, POP YouTube, POPCORE Virtual Recordings, Facebook Posts, Harvest Tracking Sheet, Rainbow Nutrition Cards.

When asked what barriers limited partners using resources, viewing videos, or attending workshops  – 50% responded lack of time, with many noting that the time they have to put towards the orchard in general is extremely minimal. 30% responded that they did not know about all of our resources. 

We prioritize hosting our workshops at POP orchards. In 2023, we hosted 15 workshops at 10 different partner sites, 3 at the POP Learning Orchard, and 6 workshops virtually. In an effort to extend this opportunity to more partners, we asked whether they were interested in hosting a Harvest-Ed workshop. 58.7% said they were interested in hosting, 15.2% said they were interested but do not have running water and/or bathrooms on site (stated as requirement for hosting), and 26.1% said they were not interested in hosting.   

To help guide our workshop and resource development we ask partners what fruits, nuts, herbs, processes, or themes they would like to see covered – the top 3 topics included: Preserving harvest (5), herbal medicine (3), Nut growing and processing (2).

65% of our orchard partners have youth programs, and of those who do, all of them have brought their youth to the orchard. Of those who have youth programs, 73% of partners are interested in collaborating on youth programming. In 2023, we partnered with 7 different orchard partners to provide orchard education to youth – offering workshops on mushroom inoculation, weed ID, and tours of the POP Learning Orchard.

Simone Shemshedini and youth at Historic Fair Hill practicing plant identification skills with edible and invasive weeds from their orchard. Photo Credit: POP

Orchard Challenges and Needs

This section evaluates orchard challenges and needs by collecting data on the orchard pests, diseases, capacity challenges and environmental pressures partners face and identifying more specifically where partners need additional or ongoing support. 

On average, when asked to rate challenges in the orchard from 1-5 (1= very easy and 5= very challenging), 9% rated challenges as 1 (5% in 2022; 4% in 2021), 19.6% rated challenges as 2 (26% in 2022; 15% in 2021), 41% rated challenges as 3 (42% in 2022; 44% in 2021), 22% rated challenges as a 4 (16% in 2022; 28% in 2021) and 8% rated challenges as a 5 (12% in 2022; 9% in 2021)

The most commonly reported challenges (20% or more reported) in 2023 were: 

  • plant diseases: 65% (63% in 2022; 46% in 2021)
  • amount of time available/other responsibilities: 52% (49% in 2022; 57% in 2021)
  • squirrels: 44% (44% in 2022; 41% in 2021)
  • insect pests: 44% (44% in 2022; 41% in 2021)
  • weeds: 35% (40% in 2022; 41% in 2021)
  • staffing transitions: 28% (23% in 2022; 2% in 2021)
  • attendance at volunteer days: 26% (26% in 2022; 13% in 2021)
  • birds: 24% (37% in 2022; 20% in 2021)
  • watering: 24% (40% in 2022; 26% in 2021)
  • theft: 21% (9% in 2022; 17% in 2021)
  • vandalism: 21% (7% in 2022; 7% in 2021)

The ratings on orchard challenges shifted slightly over the years, with a decrease in participants rating challenges as very easy (1) and an increase in those rating them as moderately challenging (3). This suggests a potential increase in challenges faced by site partners. Furthermore, the most commonly reported challenges in 2023 remained consistent with previous years, with plant diseases, staff capacity, and pest issues being the primary concerns. However, staffing transitions emerged as a notably increasing challenge, indicating possible disruptions within organizations’ staffing. It has been consistently reported throughout the years that there is often turnover in urban agriculture positions and programs that go beyond what POP can realistically provide support for. These shifts in reported challenges may indicate adjustments needed  in resource allocation, training programs such as the LOV program or POPCORE and strategic planning to address emerging needs effectively on a site by site basis. Additionally, the increase in challenges like theft and vandalism underscores the importance of having more consistent support in orchard spaces. 

Plant Diseases

Plant diseases were the highest reported orchard challenge for another consecutive year, with fire blight (40% reported; 28% in 2022; 17% in 2021), peach leaf curl (37% reported; 23% in 2022; 33% in 2021) and cedar apple rust (20% reported; 26% in 2022; 17% in 2021) taking the lead as the hardest hitting diseases reported by survey participants. It should be noted that these three diseases took the lead as the most challenging orchard issues reported by survey participants in 2022.

Peaches with different stages of brown rot on the orchard floor. Photo Credit: POP

More plant diseases reported included:

  • Brown Rot: 17% (19% in 2022; 26% in 2021)
  • Black Rot 17% (7% in 2022; 9% in 2021)
  • Leaf Spot: 17% (19% in 2022; 24% in 2021)
  • Powdery Mildew: 15% (16% in 2022;  30% in 2021)
  • Gummosis: 13% (16% in 2022; 11% in 2021)
  • Black Knot: 7% (compared to 4% in 2021)
  • Pear Rust: 13%  (7% in 2022; 2% in 2021)

The data indicates some persistent and escalating challenges with plant diseases in the orchard over the past three years. Fire blight, peach leaf curl, and cedar apple rust have consistently been reported as the most problematic diseases by survey participants, with significant increases in reported cases compared to previous years. Most notably, fire blight at POP orchard sites were prevalent during the 2023 growing season. It doesn’t appear that this had a major effect on pome fruit production, possibly due to early intervention and ongoing education about the disease. Additionally, while some diseases like black rot and leaf spot have maintained a relatively steady presence, others like powdery mildew have shown fluctuations in reported cases. Notably, powdery mildew saw a decrease in reported cases in 2023 compared to the previous year but remains a significant concern nonetheless. The emergence of diseases such as black knot and pear rust, which saw increases in reported cases in 2023, highlights the evolving nature of disease challenges in the orchard. These findings indicate  the importance of implementing proactive disease management strategies, including regular monitoring and timely interventions.

Pest Challenges

The pest challenges most commonly reported from partners in 2023 included the spotted lanternfly (22% reported; 47% in 2022; 39% in 2021), plum curculio (22% reported; 21% in 2022; 15% in 2021), aphids (21% reported; 42% in 2022; 35% in 2021) and oriental fruit moth (15% reported; 14% in 2022; 19.6% in 2021). More pest challenges included:

Fruitlets with damage from the Oriental Fruit Moth damage. Photo Credit: POP
  • Peach Tree Borer: 13% (16% in 2022; 13% in 2021)
  • Japanese Beetle: 9% (5% in 2022; 11% in 2021)
  • Mites: 9% (0% in 2022; 2% in 2021)
  • Stink Bugs: 9% (5% in 2022; 7% in 2021)
  • Codling Moth: 7% (7% in 2022; 4% in 2021)
  • Scale: 7% (12% in 2022; 2% in 2021)

The reported pest challenges in 2023 reveal notable shifts, particularly with the spotted lanternfly reported as a significant concern alongside plum curculio, aphids, and oriental fruit moth. Interestingly, both the spotted lanternfly and plum curculio showed decreases in reported cases compared to the previous year, suggesting potential successes in control measures and/or natural fluctuations in pest populations. The spotted lanternfly hasn’t been a major pest of concern for orchard crops, but has sometimes had some impact on grape vines. Conversely, aphids persisted as a prevalent pest, indicating ongoing challenges in management efforts for partners, but saw a major decrease in reporting compared to previous seasons. The slight increase of reported cases of oriental fruit moth may be in part of fluctuations in pest population for the season, but did not have a major shift in the last year. 

Challenges Impact 

When reporting the percentage of harvest lost to pest and disease challenges:

  • 58% of partners lost 10% or less of their yield (54% in 2022; 55% in 2021)
  • 23% of partners lost 15-25% of their yield (26% in 2022; 20% in 2021)
  • 19% of partners lost more than 25% of their yield (20% in 2022; 22% in 2021 )

When reporting the percentage of harvest lost to non-insect pests such as birds and squirrels:

  • 52% of partners lost 10% or less of their yield (59% in 2022; 61% in 2021)
  • 19% of partners lost 15-25% of their yield (21% in 2022; 20% in 2021)
  • 15% of partners lost more than 25% of their yield (22% in 2022; 17% in 2021)

When asked “what might make next year better?” 63% of partner sites offered specific feedback. Of that, most notably,

  • 31% reported capacity issues that could be addressed with more staff and/or volunteer support on their site. As mentioned previously, while POP is not able to solve issues of staff transitions, turnover or capacity happening at partner sites, the organization is making attempts to strengthen the LOV program and provide staff support with regular check-ins and monthly work days  to sites that are experiencing ongoing challenges.
  • 17% of partners reported a need for more intentional support with implementing integrated pest management techniques.  POP has continued its goal to offer and expand resources including blog posts; an increase in social media posts pertaining to orchard care; educational videos in partnership with Big Picture Alliance that have focused more in depth with the common pest and disease issues that impact partner sites; and providing weekly to bi-weekly emails alerting partners on local pest and disease challenges, monthly reminders for seasonal orchard care, and more.

Lead Orchard Volunteers

The POP Lead Orchard Volunteer Program connects partner sites with dedicated volunteers trained to provide consistent, long-term involvement with their orchard, while expanding their knowledge and hands-on experience  in orchard care. The growth and training of LOV’s are supported by POP.

In 2023 POP had 29 LOVs (up from 28 in 2022) at 18 sites (the same number of sites as in 2022). During the 2023 season, POP staff recognized that there was room for the LOV program to expand, making room for more structured workdays, opportunities for LOVs to connect and gather and incorporate more interest-specific educational opportunities in the program. 

POP LOV, Meei Ling Ng, led twice weekly volunteer days all season at the community garden and orchard at the Union Baptist Church Garden of Eden in 2023.
Photo Credit: POP

In 2023, when asked if partners were interested in having a Lead Orchard Volunteer next season:

24 partner sites (53%) stated that they were interested in having an LOV at their site (remaining the same percentage as in 2022). Out of those, 10 partner sites (42%) reported they have a volunteer or community member that would be an a good fit (remaining the same percentage as in 2022) and 14 respondents (58%) reported interest in having POP help recruit LOVs for their site (an increase from 30% in 2022)

5 partner sites (11%) reported that they needed more information on the Lead Orchard Volunteer Program. This year we learned that a some of our partner sites were unclear exactly what the LOV program was until we were able to have 1:1 meetings with them to breakdown what it was and how we were able to support them. 

In 2023, when asked if partners host other volunteers in their orchard:

  • 8 partner sites (18%) reported that they do host a core group of volunteers participating in weekly or monthly volunteer workdays. 
  • 10 partner sites (22%) reported that they do host large groups of volunteers at least several times a year. 
  • 5 partner sites (11%) reported that they do host volunteers both in large groups several times a year and with a core group of volunteers that participate in weekly and monthly volunteer days.
  • 14 partner sites (31%) reported that yes they do host volunteers, but rarely.
  • 6 partner sites (13%)  reported that they do not host volunteers are their orchard.
  • 2 partner sites (4%) reported specific volunteer groups that come to the orchard (weavers way working member volunteers and PowerCorps).

This was not a question asked in the 2022 Partner Survey, so there is no data from last year to compare it to. The highest percentage of this question states that partners do host other volunteers but rarely. An assumption can be made that this speaks to capacity issues among the urban agriculture community in Philly and the challenges of addressing having enough capacity to do actual work being done on the land while engaging community, volunteer coordination and outreach. One way POP would like to assist in addressing this issue is to use the LOV program as a way to bridge the gaps of capacity building. If LOVs are committed to monthly workdays at sites, there’s possibility for more consistent support on site and opportunity to engage community members in deeper ways with the land. 

POP Performance/Organizational Improvement

This section focuses on open-answer questions about POP’s support services, what is working well and how they can be improved going forward.  Some of the most common themes in response to “What do you value most about the support that POP provides?” were in-person visits and help with orchard maintenance (19); varied compliments for the POP team including responsive, accessible, helpful, accountable, kind, considerate, patient, awesome, and phenomenal (15); knowledge/guidance/expertise (13 responses); and educational resources, workshops, and trainings (9). 

Some direct quotes: 

Julian and Christian at Urban Creators stand next to some freshly planted raised beds of berries!

“I love the energy and knowledge that POP comes in with, I’ve learned so much from them in our monthly workdays, I don’t know how we’d do this without them!” – POP Partner

“The resources and guidance that POP provides has been invaluable, I would not be an orchard volunteer without them, and I doubt we would have more than one or two fruit trees at our garden without POP.” – St. Bernard Community Garden

For “How can POP better support you and your orchard?”, the most common theme was that the partner already feels well supported or doesn’t need anything else (15 replies), followed by more technical support with pest and disease management or with a specific plant (6); more site visits/consulting (5); help with volunteer recruitment (4); help with youth engagement and curriculum (4); and more hands-on maintenance support (3).  Some direct quotes: 

Food Forest at Hamilton Elementary. Photo Credit: POP

“Help to connect us with other orchards/gardens in the neighborhood so that we can collaborate and do more community-facing events.” – Hamilton School

“We could use advice on maintaining and improving the orchard and garden next year, particularly as we lost a staff member who had been lead in maintaining both.” – Woodford Mansion

“I would love to attend some of the workshops to better understand our orchard and visit other orchards to see how they run.”- POP Partner

The ‘Additional Comments or Questions’ section had a number of replies expressing gratitude (13) and a couple of specific requests.  Some direct quotes: 

“The garden is very much a work in progress. Fundamental shifts in focus and organization and underway. POP has been great in holding space for this change to occur. Thank you.” – Grace Wicks

“I really appreciate all the support POP has offered and look forward to collaborating in any way possible to strengthen our connection and be able to give back in return to POP.” – Pedro Ospina

“We very much appreciate POP’s assistance in getting us a donation of a cider press, which we made good use of in this Fall’s Ciderfest. We also appreciate POP’s loaning us their apple crusher!” – Woodford Orchard

“I’m super grateful for you all. You have enhanced our work at GFD 10 fold and I’m excited for our orchard to grow as well as partnership!” – Get Fresh Daily


In 2023, 10 partner sites completed our new Reconnecting Partner Survey, a shorter survey intended for partners we hadn’t heard from in a while or that had undergone transitions that would make it challenging to complete the full survey.  The goal of this survey is to reconnect with lost or changing partners, hear more about the status of their orchards, and see what support they might want in the coming year.  

5 of the respondents were partners we hadn’t had much contact with in a while, 4 were sites undergoing significant transitions, and 1 was an active community partner that accidentally filled out the Reconnecting Survey through a misunderstanding!  Of the sites, 40% reported that their orchard was maintained by the partner and their volunteers; 40% were not actively maintained last year; and 20% were primarily maintained with help from POP.  70% of respondents wanted regular site visits and support from POP in the coming year.  In terms of distribution of orchard yields, 40% were harvested for free by community members, 30% were harvested by the partner and distributed for free to the community, and 30% did not harvest or distribute.  

One impact story from the Reconnecting Survey: “We have a new student from West Africa who is obsessed with plants, especially edible plants. It was fun researching each individual plant with him just to make sure he was safe. He would run up with something new and ask, “Can I eat this?” and I could almost always answer yes (except when it was leaves).” – Lea Elementary

Folks caring for the food forest at Lea Elementary. Photo Credit: POP

This POP Blog was written by the POP team.

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