2018 Orchard Partner Survey Summary

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POP surveys all of our orchard partners at season’s end and we like to share what we’ve learned each year! Each year, we ask partners about their orchards, orchard challenges, orchard value, community involvement, yields, distribution methods, how we perform as partners, our educational offerings, and how to improve. In all, 52 of 62 POP partners (84%) participated in our annual Partner Survey in November and December.

52 of 62 (84%) of POP orchard partners participated in this year’s annual survey.

Orchard Value

For the first time, ‘Gathering and Community Space’ was rated most often as having the “highest value” (37%) with a close second between ‘Educational Opportunities’ and ‘Beauty and Neighborhood Greening’ (35%). “Beauty & Neighborhood Greening”, “Educational Opportunities”, and “Community Health and Nutrition”  were rated as “High Value” by just under half of respondents. Voting drops off significantly in categories of “Moderate Value” with half of respondents electing not to assign both “Low Value” and “Lowest Value”. Among the votes cast in these lower categories, “Food Production and Distribution” received the most votes followed by “Environmental Impact”. The 44% of partners that rate “Food Production and Distribution” as “High Value” or “Highest Value” tend to be more established plantings, organizations centered around food access, or organizations with market-based endeavors. Smaller urban spaces with few trees will be more valued for their educational impact rather than their impact on the food system, while some orchards are either too young or are struggling with pest, disease, and weather related factors preventing them from seeing full yields.

Stories illustrating the value of the orchard always provide some heartening responses that help provide qualitative support for the impact of POP’s work. Repeating themes include educating and exposing people to new fruit (17), the availability of fresh fruits and herbs (11), people’s reactions to tasting something for the first time (5), the response of children to the environment and tasting fresh fruit (14), community members coming together (13), profound or healing experiences of gardening or the natural world (8), the urban orchard as a vehicle for talking about social issues (6), and the excitement that comes with seeing fruit trees mature and produce over time (7). Link here to read some of our favorite POP partner stories from 2018!


POP partner orchards serve a wide array of constituents across the city of Philadelphia, which are primarily neighborhood and community based. Some orchards serve specific demographics within a neighborhood or are in a neighborhood consisting of fairly specific demographics, while others are located in incredibly diverse neighborhoods. Many orchard partners have child, youth, or young adult based programming. Some are wide open to any and all people, and some prefer to work with a specific population. Some orchards are located within rapidly changing neighborhoods.

On average, orchard partners self reported that 61.4 % of populations served qualify as low-income, which is close to the average of 65.1% reported last year. The change in reported low-income populations served may be a reflection of development and changing demographics in certain areas, a change in perception, or a change in estimation methods. Depending on the partner, these numbers were gathered via census data, FMNP voucher collection, HUD criteria, and well-informed estimates and guesses. This should be compared to other methods POP uses to assess demographics served, however our orchard partners know their communities the best and we will continue to value their reporting on demographics served.

Community Involvement

Our survey found that there were significant increases in regular attention, participation in regularly scheduled workdays, and the number of people participating in educational programming in our partner orchards. This past year 428 people participated monthly in orchard care (up from 2017’s 350), 2404 people participated at least once in orchard care, and 4,435 people tasted something grown in a POP partner orchard. Larger gains were seen with 7,190 people participating in education programs in POP orchards (an 84% increase from 2017’s 3,900) and 8,923 people using a POP partner orchard as community gathering space this year (a 65% increase). These improvements in just one season are encouraging indicators that our increasing number of orchard spaces and maturing orchards are reaching more people.

Partners reported that an all time high of 8923 people used POP orchards as community gathering space in 2018; this function also was most commonly rated as the highest value of orchard spaces by our community partners.

Yield Distribution

Distribution methods vary greatly from one group to another, as expected from distribution plans submitted in partner applications and the varying missions of partner orchards. Similar to past years, over half (51.5%) of all recorded harvest yields at POP partner orchards were made available to community members for free.  If averaging distribution methods across all partners, each partner weighted equally, over 70% of partner harvests are slated to be harvested directly by or distributed to community members for free either onsite or through outside emergency food service organizations. When accounting for production levels reported by each partner within their distribution methods, the scales are tipped heavily by 16 partners (30%) reporting much higher harvest weights than the majority of POP partners. It may be important to note that most of these 16 partners have well established plants, and thus more access to harvest, as well as some of the highest recorded rates of interaction with their orchards, enabling higher yield utilization and tracking of harvests.

Most of these percentages are very similar to last year’s, except that free harvest by community members has decreased, and the percentage sold at on-site farmstands has increased again for the 2nd year in a row. The increased entrepreneurial use of these orchard spaces is most likely an indication of increased youth and community engagement through jobs, internships, and a need to consider economic components as a factor in sustainability.  It should also be noted that the on-site farmstands led by our urban farm partners generally feature very affordable prices to accommodate their communities and a high percentage of sales are through FMNP or SNAP programs, meaning additional free distribution to Philadelphia residents in need.  

Orchard Production

Total orchard production of over 3580 pounds was reported in 2018, and the majority of produce was harvested by or distributed directly to community members for free. In total, 21 orchards answered that their spaces had higher yields than last season, while 16 reported lower yields, 11 were unsure, and 4 were too new to answer. 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. However, estimates continue to improve with each passing season. POP has taken measures to provide partners with volume-to-weight conversion charts to aid in estimation, notebooks for writing yield recording, gifting scales when asked for in annual tool lotteries. As always, new orchards will have little to no production and should follow POP’s advice to remove all first-year fruit to enhance tree growth. Despite challenges in accurate tracking at some sites, aggregate yields reported by our partners correlate to and reflect climatic factors, pest and disease pressure, frequency of planting, and sometimes people branching out into new ‘fruiterritory’.

Fruit Tree Production

Based on survey analysis of tree fruit production, figs, peaches/nectarines, Asian pears, plums and paw paws again had the highest yields, with pie cherries, plums, and apples seeing the most significant increases in yields since the previous season. These numbers are partially representative of the frequency at which POP partners plant these fruits, and numbers may be skewed by new or immature plantings. For example, despite most of our paw paw trees having a ways to go to reach maturity, paw paws show a higher harvest because they are the second most planted fruit tree next to Figs. Our most common fruits like apples, peaches, pears, cherries, and plums also face the most challenges in pest and disease, significantly impacting reported yields. While most nut trees planted at POP partner orchards are fairly immature, hardy almond yields are steady and should grow with more plantings in recent years. We saw a first recorded yield of hazelnuts, partially due to the addition of Saul High School’s mature plantings as a supported partner.

It is important to note  that 14 of the 39 full partner respondents are 4 seasons old or younger, meaning their fruit trees and berry bushes are immature or possibly too young to be bearing any fruit at all. Additionally, several POP Partner orchards are semi-public or entirely public. Whether intended to largely be harvested for free by community members or not (many of our partner orchards are), open public access mean a significant portion of harvests go unrecorded, which makes tracking orchard yields difficult. Weather was again a significant factor this year, but in a manner different from last. This year, a cold, cloudy, wet fall affected our fall harvests of European and Asian pears, apples and figs. Stone fruits, especially plums, saw a rebound in yields this year after being negatively affected by frost damage following early blooming due to a mild winter in 2017. It’s a good idea to plant a variety of fruits, so you hopefully end up with some production despite the challenges of a given season!

Plums were the fruit that rated most productive per tree in 2018, largely escaping crop losses due to early blooming that were problematic the previous year.

For the first time, we also attempted to quantify the average productivity of each type of fruit tree. While it is difficult for us to accurately do this across all partner sites, our data does inform us what plants are producing well and are utilized by partners, reflected in their yield reporting. One should note that there are a hand full of 11 year old orchards coming into fuller fruit bearing age, a few mature “supported POP partner” orchards planted prior to POP’s involvement, several 5 year old orchards beginning to bear small quantities, and orchards between those ages all being averaged here, each with different arrays of tree crops. Totaling yields and number of trees across partners over 5 years old, we see that plums are currently by far the highest yielding and utilized fruit or nut tree at POP partner sites. Pie cherries and peaches follow, with a next tier of productivity for sweet cherries, pawpaws, and the recently producing hardy almond. Closely following, persimmons, apricots, figs, and asian pears are reliable producers across partner sites above 5 years old. The fruit trees our partners struggle with the most to get good yields are apples, largely expected given they are the most pest and disease prone of any species we plant. Mulberries and jujubes are likely underutilized and chestnuts have a ways to grow before full bearing potential. While sweet cherries seem to be mostly for the birds in some partners’ cases, some of our more uncommon fruits may continue to be underutilized because, well, they may still be somewhat unfamiliar to many folks. They also tend to be smaller and may require some processing.

Berry and Fruiting Vine Production

Berry and perennial vegetable yields were tracked again and we saw an increase in total yields and/or usage of smaller orchard fruits in 2018. However, we did see a significant reduction in reported raspberry yields this year. The previous year, many berry and perennial vegetables had seen a dip in yield or usage, which some crops (strawberries, blackberries, currants, goumis, and hardy kiwi) rebounded from in 2018. Some yields persisting at lower than previously reported levels may be a reflection of a number of things, including strawberry patches that need rejuvenation, brambles needing thorough pruning, fungal issues that affect Ribes species, changes in tracking methods, or maturing fruit trees beginning to shade out lower growing berries.

Herbaceous Production

Culinary and medicinal herbs were tracked again this year and reported yields of our most common herbs, aside from comfrey, increased across the board in 2018! This is encouraging and may reflect efforts to provide further education on the benefits and usage of herbs in the orchard. We like to hear partners are making use of these herbs that also provide important ecological benefits to holistic orchard ecosystems; POP will continue to expand information and workshops on the subject. Fennel, mint, and lemon balm were among the highest reported yields, perhaps reflecting their tendency to spread and quickly increase their offerings. Has the comfrey craze subsided!? Time will tell…

POP partners reported increased harvest and use of culinary and medicinal herbs planted as companion plantings to fruit trees in food forests and orchards.

Of total respondents, 42% of partners would like more assistance in learning how to make use of their orchard plants, down from a high of 72% reporting the need in 2016. This is an indicator that POP’s educational outreach has improved confidence in harvest utilization, while perhaps there is still a deeper level of understanding to achieve. As orchard ecosystems mature, an understory of plants in abundance contribute to better overall maintenance and orchard value. The use of these plants for nutrition, medicine-making, fiber production, culinary flavoring, and value-added products is still uncharted or mildly dabbled in territory for many modern farmers, though a way of expanding yields.

The best ways to improve yields from all orchard plants and overall yields from orchards will be to increase capacity of orchard partners and community members in pest and disease management, regular orchard maintenance procedures, and yield utilization through educational programming, distribution of educational reference materials, and providing resources in the form of tools, pest and disease control supplies, and interpretive signage.

Production Challenges and Recommendations

When asked to rate challenges in the orchard from 1-5, responses from partners averaged out to 3, which is neither very easy nor very challenging. 30 respondents (57.7%) believe it was easier to maintain their orchards in 2018 than last year. It does seem that the orchards which are more mature and with more consistent caretakers across multiple seasons are becoming easier.

Many spaces that reported higher challenges are also undergoing staff transitions, which can naturally create some difficulties in the continuity of orchard care. According to survey responses, 14 of our partners are going through definite staffing transitions and there are two foreseeable additions to that number. While we are aware of additional staffing transitions not represented in survey responses, this clearly demonstrates high turnover rates within the field of urban agriculture which may relate to wages and organizations’ abilities to employ full time. We find POP support to be helpful in these times of transition, as we are able to provide orchard history, orientation, and training to staff that are onboarding to orchard care as a new role.

When comparing frequency of orchard care against rate of difficulty, an obvious takeaway is that we do see a correlation between challenges in orchard care and frequency of care. While those that report mild to moderate challenges fall across the board in terms of frequency of orchard care, all respondents rating orchard care as relatively or very easy tend to their spaces monthly, if not more often. Everyone reporting orchard care as ‘very easy’ tend to their spaces twice a month or weekly. This is understandably not possible for all partners, though we recommend monthly care to keep up on orchard needs.

The most frequently identified challenge is the amount of time available and other responsibilities. While this is the first time we asked, this outcome is no surprise. Understanding the nature of being split between many responsibilities and needing to be most effective with your time and effort, POP has plans to craft a list of recommended practices for community and volunteer organizing to share with orchard partners this coming season. Organizing robust volunteer work days for certain tasks like weeding and mulching may take a load off your back, as the old adage indicates: “many hands make light work”. With time constraints and other responsibilities in mind (often vegetable production taking priority for urban farm partners), organizing or sharing leadership in monthly volunteer workdays in addition to POP visits could significantly lessen orchard challenges.

The most commonly reported challenges in orchard production and percentage of orchards reporting these challenges were: available time and other responsibilities (59.6%), squirrels (48%), birds (40.3%), insect pests (34.6%), plant diseases (32.7%), weeds (32.7%) staffing transitions (26.9%), background knowledge (24%), and watering schedules (13.5%). POP sends out orchard care tips, pest and disease identification, as well as management information through our blog and email lists. When asked, 48% of partners are usually or always reading these tips, 36.5% are occasionally reading them, 4 never read them, and 4 newer stewards need to be added to our email list. With available time and other responsibilities being our biggest challenge and the modern age of overflowing email inboxes, this is understandable. It is important to note that all of our pest, disease, and orchard care tips are also available on our website, easily obtainable through our website’s search function. When polled, 46% of our partners do not utilize this resource when they discover an issue, though 21% often do, and 33% do occasionally. POP will continue to remind partners this is available and that guidance on most growing challenges is readily available.

In 2018 POP created and shared easy to use, photo-based scouting guides to help orchard partners identify and manage pest and disease challenges.

Pest and Disease Management

In 2018, POP released orchard pest and disease scouting guides for our most common and commonly affected fruits including apples, pears, cherries, peaches, and plums. While 37% (19) of survey respondents indicated they haven’t seen or used these yet, 60% (31) of respondents did see these and found them useful. When asked if we should produce more pest and disease guides, 85% of respondents said yes. In addition to supporting the production of additional pest and disease guides, 36 out of 52 respondents would like more guidance in holistic and organic sprays. Ultimately, a pest, disease, and spray calendar/guide could prove extremely useful, given the understanding that seasons vary and biological cycles of all players follow different timelines year to year.

Pest and disease identification and management is the most complicated aspect of orchard care, requiring the most knowledge, time and resources to become well versed in. Highest reported diseases by POP partners are the most common and easily identifiable diseases. Based on this years responses, it seems that fire blight may be spreading; peach leaf curl is getting addressed; brown rot, black rot, gummosis and aphids are mainstays; pest and disease knowledge could still improve; squirrels and birds are having a field day; and we’re safe from the pear shrew for now. On average, partners feel that 19% of their yields are lost to birds and squirrels, and while we haven’t thought of how to solve this aside from extensive netting systems, obsessive trapping and the encouragement of bird predation seen at commercial orchards, we continue to inform our partners about recommended approaches to pest and disease. POP partners estimated that 16.5% of their orchard yields were lost to pest and disease in 2018.

Expanding Orchard Education Efforts

In March 2018, POP hosted its 4-part Community Orchard Resilience Education (POPCORE) course for the second time as a 4-week offering. Additionally, three of the four classes were offered at least one other time throughout the year. Among our partner respondents, Winter Pruning is our highest attended class at 18 partners, while attendance declines to 14 at Pest and Disease, 6 at Plants and Usage, and up to 9 at Permaculture.

According to 2016 and 2017 surveys, at least 85% of respondents were interested in participating in these courses. However, 60% of this year’s respondents still haven’t attended any. Of those that haven’t attended, only four are not interested, with the remaining evenly split between definitely wanting to and perhaps wanting to attend. No one that has taken at least one class does not want to attend another, and all four survey respondents that attended the full course offering have indicated they would like to continue coming. While this survey is for partners only and our courses are offered to the broader public, this is a good indicator of the successes and challenges of the program. We are pleased to see those that have attended one or more classes are 100% interested in continuing. This indicates our educational offering is valued, and that perhaps our efforts to gather and incorporate feedback, update and include new content is inspiring return students.

POPCORE offerings will continue to be held in multiple formats at different locations and times of year to meet the availability needs of our partners. Producing educational video content is also a new goal for 2019.

Similar to 2017, there is an even split between a preference for a 4-week course in Winter and one course every 2-3 months. The March course has been more consistently well attended, as of course more growers are willing and able to attend a workshop in the off season. Day and time preferences were similarly split, with weekday evenings and Saturday afternoons being the most preferred. POP will continue to offer POPCORE courses in both formats and with both timing options to try to accommodate and reach the most participants.

We asked our partners “Considering your natural tendencies, commitments, and accessibility, what is the best way for you to learn?” If you lump ratings of “good”, “great”, and “best” together, each mode of learning “works” for at least 50% of our partners, which reflects a natural spread of prefered learning modalities, tendencies, and personal availability. The #1 preferred mode of learning is hands on, working for 93% of responding partners. Hands on workshops were also highest category rated “best”, by 69% of partners. Perhaps not so surprisingly Philly, the 2nd most popular mode of learning was experimenting on one’s own with 83% happy to learn in the classroom of life. The next most popular mode of learning, a sign of the times, is video, which will work for 77% of our partners, followed by in person lecture at 75%. Published online materials work for 63% of partners, while hard copies and infographics both work for 57%. That said, there is a segment of partners that each of these categories doesn’t work for, and we should continue to diversify the modes we provide educational materials and resources through.

The main barriers to participation in continuing education are cost, location, and time of day. 30 POP partner respondents indicated they are associated with a building or outdoor space that could host an evening or weekend class, with 9 additional partners potentially able to extend the opportunity towards us. The ability to utilize these resources plays a large role in our offering of POPCORE and POP HarvestED workshops both in central and dispersed locations in Philadelphia on a sliding scale. Continuing to vary locations and times of workshops will make POP educational offerings available to the most people possible, while posting electronic materials as downloads or video and reminding partners these are available to help this information spread.

POP Harvest and HarvestED

Expanding our effort to highlight and educate partners and the public about unusual fruit, we piloted the POP HarvestED program in 2018 as an extension of our POP Harvest gleaning program. This new education program brings in community teachers to lead gleaning workshops focused on the end use of lesser known fruits, nuts, and herbs that are widely available through POP orchards and the Philadelphia region.
This season we held four of these workshops on the topics of Ginkgo berry processing, Trifoliate Orange based fire cider, Herbal Oxymels, and Black Walnut processing for edibility, fabric dye, wood stain and medicinal properties. When asked, 87.5% of partner respondents would like to attend these workshops in the future whereas a similar amount have not attended any yet. This is an encouraging percentage, while only 42% of partner indicated they would like more assistance learning how to use the plants in their orchards. This may indicate POP partners are getting to know their plants, and that there is interest in this model of hands on community education with more unusual, yet abundantly available harvests. We intend to continue this series with 8-10 workshops in 2019. Suggested topics predominantly include nut and herb usage, but also a variety of specific plant care intensives, in-depth harvest preservation methods, propagation, permaculture, and tree tapping are desired.

The pilot POP HarvestEd workshop series this year included an event harvesting trifoliate oranges at Historic Strawberry Mansion for use in making Fire Cider.

Organizational Improvement

On a scale from 1 to 10, respondents’ average rating of POP as an overall organization was a 9.2 (a tenth of a point higher than last season)! Partners continue to believe that POP staff are supportive, adaptable, and easy to reach, though there are always ways that we can improve. Some partner suggestions or desires include increased engagement through more frequent visits, hands on assistance, check ins and classroom time, increased number of volunteer orchard liaisons, increased staffing, more frequent plant health checks, collaborative facilitation of partnership and community building, spray tips and services, more plants, and help finding mulch. A number of partners wouldn’t change a thing and think “continuing to do what we do together will bear much fruit”. Pun intended.

POP exists to support our Philadelphia orchard partners, primarily through educational programs and materials; hands on assistance in the form of consulting visits and volunteer workdays; and access to design services, plant materials, and tools & equipment. Our model and current resources allow us to do our best to visit each orchard quarterly, additionally on an as needed basis, while seeking to empower our partners through educational offerings. Due to limitations of staff capacity, it is unlikely that we will be able to visit most partner sites more than quarterly, but a solution for sites desiring more engagement may be in the orchard liaison system. By growing this program, POP staff hours can be multiplied to increase support across the city through a growing network of trained volunteer orchard liaisons. This alongside community and volunteer organizing recommendations may go a long way, while continuing to build out niche reference materials and workshops.

Dedicating staff time to implementing and reporting back on a pilot program of more intensive pest and disease management practices at a few partner orchards will be a worthwhile step to take. As POP, our effort is best served empowering our partners to manage their spaces confidently as caretakers through our programs in the most effective and accessible ways that address a number of preferred learning methods. While POP provides information and experiences in a variety of ways, the production of video is a mode of instruction POP has not yet pursued. Survey responses indicated instructional videos would work for a majority of partners as supplementary learning opportunity, which may enable us to reach partners for whom attending workshops is a challenge. POP aims to pilot new educational video content in 2019.

When asked “what would make 2019 better?” 3 or more partners self identified the following strategies or areas of improvement: more volunteers or staff, planning and leadership efforts, setting a schedule for one’s self, assistance identifying something, physical infrastructure, compost and signage. POP has developed plant signs for most of orchard and food forest plants we plant, though they have not yet been widely distributed. We are in the process of further developing these signs and identifying the most cost effective and weather/sun proof options. 34 POP partners that don’t have plant id signs want them and 6 partners need sign replacements. Additionally, we’ve also developed signs to explain what food forests and community orchard are. 35 partners want a food forest or community orchard sign, 11 have them, and 6 are uninterested.

POP has steadily grown its staff, interns, liaisons, dedicated volunteers, and confident partners, as the capacity and understanding of what it takes to properly maintain orchard ecosystems in our network improves with each year. Despite the notion that orchards and perennial ecosystems are slow to produce and take care of themselves, the amount of time needed to learn care of the plants and ecosystems we work with, manage a range of growing challenges, and to harvest maximum yields is equally as great or greater. Patience, routine, time for observation, and preventing problems rather than treating them could be valuable, applicable orchard and life lessons. As such, much of the work POP pursues is attempting to shorten that span of time and bring awareness through hands on experiences and informational resources. POP continues to refine our efforts, programs, and support services based on the valued input of our orchard partners across the city.

This blog post was written by Orchard Director Michael Muehlbauer with input from 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.

10th Annual East Park Apple Festival

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This year’s 10th annual East Park Apple Festival included a beautiful clear sky, perfect Fall weather, plenty of community involvement, and LOTS of apples.  The festival, which has been held at historic Woodford Mansion every October since 2009, is a collaboration between Woodford, the East Park Revitalization Alliance (EPRA), and the Philadelphia Orchard Project (POP). These partners first began to work together in 2008, when the Fairmount Park Commission (now Philadelphia Parks & Recreation) approved planting of the first fruit trees at Woodford.  Plantings now include dozens of fruit and nut trees, a berry garden, pollinator garden, and herb garden that help bring to life the history of the landscape while serving residents of today’s Strawberry Mansion neighborhood by providing fresh fruit and educational programming.

Pressing fresh apple cider has been a big hit at the East Park Apple Festival every year since 2009!

On October 20th, 2018, community members attending the Apple Festival enjoyed free food prepared by various volunteers, tours of the mansion and orchard, freshly pressed apple cider, a tasting of apple varieties, and various activities led by the partner organizations.

As guests arrived around noon, activities began.  POP set up its information table by the orchard, accompanied by volunteers and dozens of potted trees.  At this event, along with a several others during Philadelphia Orchard Week, POP provided those interested with a free fruit tree to take and plant at home through a grant from UPS and Keep America Beautiful.  Many fruit tree types were available, including Asian Pear, Peach, and Pawpaw! POP Executive Director Phil Forsyth later led a tour of the Woodford Orchard and neighborhood kids got to pick and eat some early ripening American Persimmons.

One of several Apple Fest attendees that went home with a free fruit tree to plant in their yard courtesy of POP and a grant from Keep America Beautiful and UPS.

Martha Moffat, who you could find helping out in every corner of the festival, is Site Manager of Woodford Mansion.  Ten years ago, Ms. Moffat recalls, when the first festival commenced, “it was cold and pouring rain. It wasn’t much fun, but we pushed forward and look, here we are ten years after, lots of big trees, people, the sun is shining.”  She could not be more proud and is thrilled to be a larger part of the community through their partnerships with EPRA and POP.

Near the entrance of the festival, you could find a beautiful red apple cider press, piles of apples, and EPRA staff and volunteers cranking away to make those apples into sweet, fresh cider.  Suku John, who is EPRA’s Executive Director and a master of the cider press, was happy to see such a great turnout this year. EPRA has been working as the primary stewards of the Woodford Orchard since its planting, with ongoing training and support from POP.  Dr. John reports that plans of further orchard expansion are to come with the help of a group called the Fair Amount Food Forest.

On this year’s tour of the Woodford community orchard, Apple Fest participants picked and tasted American persimmons right from the tree!  

Michael Muehlbauer and other volunteer members of the Fair Amount Food Forest collective also had a table set up at the festival and spent the day handing out information and receiving feedback from the community on possibilities to add new plantings and programs to the existing orchard space. They also provided activities for the kids and fresh herbal tea.  On top of providing information, activities, and tea, Mr. Muehlbauer was happy to be there, saying “the festival is a relaxed event with a wonderful vibe and great people.”

This years event came to a close just about when the apples did.  Honeycrisp was the decidedly “most popular” apple in the taste test, guests left with faces painted and stomachs full of all things apple, and the mansion and orchard received lots of welcome foot traffic.  Event partners Woodford Mansion, EPRA, POP, Fair Amount Food Forest, and community members all look forward to another 10 years of East Park Apple Festivals!

The apple variety taste test is always a popular part of the East Park Apple Festival!

This POP Blog post was written by 2018 POP Administrative Assistant Natalie Agoos with assistance from 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.

Check out more photos of this year’s East Park Apple Festival courtesy of WHYY: 

A rainy 2018 yielded soggy fall harvest, Philly growers say

How did we do last year? POP’s 2017 Orchard Survey Summary

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POP surveyed all of our orchard partners at season’s end and we’d like to share what we learned this year. In all, 48 of 59 POP partners (81%) participated in our 5th annual Orchard Partner Survey in November and December 2017, which is on par with our response rate in previous years.

Orchard Value

This year, the highest percentage of respondents rated “Beauty and Neighborhood Greening” as having the “highest value” (42%) followed by “Educational Opportunities” (33%), which had held the top spot for the previous four years. Half of respondents rate “Community Health and Nutrition” as being high value, and high ratings were consistent in categories marking the “Environmental Impact” of orchards. We still find that the relatively lower valuation of “Food production and distribution” is somewhat distorted by responses from younger and newly planted orchards that have not yet come into full production and that some older sites are having trouble seeing good yields due to challenges including late frosts, pests and diseases. Some small spaces will obviously be more valued for their educational impact rather than their impact on the food system, while many of our partner sites with more established sites or organizations which are more centered around food access (Weaver’s Way Farm, SHARE Food Program, Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, for example) rated food production and distribution with highest value.

Did you know every POP orchard includes a pollinator garden full of perennial flowers and herbs? This year for the first time our partners reported ‘beauty and neighborhood greening’ as the highest value in our survey. (Penn Park Orchard)

Stories that illustrate the value of POP orchards to our partners were gathered and have common themes of educating and exposing people to freshly grown fruit, the reactions that people have to tasting things for the first time, new relationships that are formed within spaces, and the ways in which children respond to new fruits and creatures. Link here to read some of our favorite POP partner stories from 2017!

Community Involvement

Survey responses indicate that 4,385 people participated at least once in orchard care during the 2017 season. This number doubles last year’s response of 2,200! We saw a 7% increase in monthly orchard care from last year’s numbers, 46% of respondents tend their orchard weekly, and 40% of of them organize monthly workdays. 4,681 people tasted something grown in a partner orchard, which is about the same as last season, while we saw a moderate decrease in educational program participation in orchards. 5,386 people used a POP partner orchard as a gathering space this year, a 25.3% increase over last year!

On average, orchard partners reported that 65.1% of populations served qualify as low-income. Depending on the partner, these numbers were gathered via census data, FMNP voucher collection, HUD criteria, and well-informed estimates. For some sites with public access and a larger draw from out-of-neighborhood visitors, these numbers are harder to assess.

Yield Distribution

As expected from distribution plans submitted in partner applications and the varying missions of partner orchards, distribution methods differ greatly from one group to another. For example, 100% of yields from Tilden Middle School are harvested for free by community members and 50% of produce at Overbrook School for The Blind is sold at an on-site farmstand. Similar to past years, more than half of all yields are distributed to or harvested by community members for free.

In 2017, 31% of orchard yield was harvested for free by community members, 26% distributed for free to community members, 11% lost to pest or diseases, 8% sold at on-site farm stands, 7% went unharvested, 6% processed into value-added products, 4% sold at farmers’ markets, 2% was donated to emergency food pantries, and 1% was sold via Community Supported Agriculture. While the amount harvested free by community members has slightly decreased, the percentage sold at on-site farm stands has increased, which may indicate development of youth and community engagement through jobs and internships.

In 2018, a greater percentage of POP orchard yields were distributed via on-site farmstands, usually as part of youth agricultural entrepreneurship programs. (Grumblethorpe)

Orchard Production

Estimates of yields continue to get better with each passing season, while accurate tracking continues to prove a challenge within spaces visited by large volumes of people and where free harvest is encouraged. POP has taken measures to provide partners with a volume-to-weight conversion chart to aid partners in creating accurate estimates of production, provide orchard notebooks for writing yields down as they are harvested, and gifting scales when asked for in annual tool lotteries.

Based on survey analysis of tree fruits, figs (593 lbs), peaches/nectarines (307 lbs), Asian pears (287 lbs), and paw paws (218 lbs) produced the highest yields. These numbers are partially representative of the frequency in which these fruit trees are planted at POP partners and partially a result of their relative ease of production. This year we saw yield increases of 200% for figs, 145% for pie cherries, 140% for paw paws, and 125% for Asian pears.  We also had our first significant harvest of almonds this season!

Slow to come into production, paw paw trees were one of the bumper orchard harvests this year! (Woodford Mansion)

Several berry and perennial vegetable yields saw a decrease reported, with the notable exception of grapes, gooseberries, and rhubarb. Raspberries (395 lbs), strawberries (173 lbs), and blackberries (125 lbs) continue to yield well, although declines from the previous year likely indicate some management challenges requiring more training and support.

Weather and disease were significant factors in fruit yield this year. Early blooming due to a mild winter combined with late frosts ruined most plum and apricot flowers leading to crop loss.  A very wet spring provided ideal conditions for gray mold on strawberry plants, brown rot in stone fruits (cherries and peaches), and fireblight on apples and pears. Juneberries and apples were also broadly hit by strains of juniper-rosaceae (cedar-apple) rusts.

This year, 21 of 45 tracked species had decreased yields recorded, with the most significant losses from plums, serviceberries, apples, sweet cherries, strawberries, and currants. We saw a decrease in total reported yield, despite 24 orchards indicating their spaces had higher yields than last season. This could indicate changes in methods of tracking and extrapolated estimation for high yields, inconsistent practices, significant losses from certain crops paired unequal increases from others, and/or a shift in perceptions about what constitutes “a yield”.

Orchard yields also include medicinal and culinary herbs, here made into tea sachets as part of a POP orchard lesson plan at Sayre High School.

Culinary and medicinal herb knowledge and tracking has improved. Making more increased use of plants for medicine-making, fiber production, culinary flavoring, and value-added products are ways of expanding yields, orchard value, and overall maintenance! Only 37.5% of respondents indicated they would like more assistance in learning how to make use of their orchard plants, which is significantly lower than the 72% of respondents asking for more assistance last year,  an encouraging indicator of successful educational outreach. Newly, 34 respondents are interested in inoculating their community orchard spaces with edible mushroom spawn.

POP will continue to recommend highest yielding and easiest to maintain plants based on survey data collected, both in current and future orchard designs. The best way to improve yields from all orchard plants and overall yields from orchards will be to increase capacity of orchard partners and community members through educational programming, distribution of educational reference materials, and providing resources in the form of tools, pest and disease control supplies, and interpretive signage. Plant identification, preparation and preservation methods, proper harvest times, and pest and disease management will go a long way, while lesser-known fruits, berries, and herbs could increasingly contribute to snacks, meals, medicines, herbal teas, and winter food security.

Production Challenges and Recommendations

When asked, 22 respondents believe it was easier to maintain their orchards than last year and 26 believe it was more difficult. The highest reported problems include plant diseases (22), weeds (20) squirrels (19), pests (16), peach leaf curl (15), and birds (13). Dedicating more project partner and POP staff time to pest and disease management at a few key partner orchards paired with the production of orchard care videography might help us thoroughly inform more orchard tenders in a shorter amount of time.

Peach Leaf Curl was the most commonly reported specific disease in POP orchards this year. A late frost and a humid spring were partially responsible for declines in production for some orchard plants this year.

Upon closer inspection, it seems that orchards which are more mature and have consistent caretakers across multiple seasons are becoming easier to maintain. Young orchards and spaces undergoing staff transition will inevitably experience difficulty. As the number of POP staff, interns, liaisons, dedicated volunteers, and confident partners continue to grow, we are hopeful that overall capacity and understanding of what it takes to maintain orchard ecosystems will similarly expand, along with understanding the importance of patience, routine, time taken for observation, preventative care, and yield utilization.

Expanding Orchard and Permaculture Education Efforts

In March 2017, POP piloted our 4-part Community Orchard Resilience Education (POPCORE) course for the first time after 89% of respondents from 2016 had expressed interest in participating. We offered each class at least one other time throughout the year, but unfortunately, we find that 60% of this year’s respondents weren’t able to attend. About 85% of 2017 respondents would like to participate in POPCORE when offered again, and there was an even split between whether a 4-week course or classes spread out throughout the season are preferable.

While primary barriers to participation include time availability and location, the utilization of indoor classroom space at a variety of locations or with centrally located partners may improve attendance, while video production may help reach those interested, yet unable to attend. We will continue to offer this series in a variety of options.

With continued high interest from community partners, the new 4-part POPCORE urban orchardist certification program will be offered again in multiple formats in 2018. (FNC Poplar Farm)

Organizational Improvement

On a scale from 1 to 10,  POP rated at a 9.1 once again. Partners continue to believe that POP staff are supportive and easy to reach, though there are always ways to improve. From data and direct experience, more intensive pest & disease management practices, educational resources including hard copies and POPCORE training, signage, dissemination, and the planting of resilient and low maintenance specimens should occur, while pressure from many of these issues increased this past year. POP will continue to build educational programs, published materials and online presence with detailed information and photographs to guide partners through orchard maintenance and challenges. New photo scouting guides for apple, pear, peach, plum, and cherry tree pest and diseases will be distributed this spring to POP partner sites and POPCORE participants.

Support us

If you find 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

Orchard Partner Stories: a look back at 2017

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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. Below are some of our favorite excerpts from 2017 celebrating the beauty, abundance, and power of orchards to serve as an engaging place of discovery and connection.


FNC Learning Farm @ 8th & Poplar

We have three sweet cherry trees that had a great harvest this year. Fruit gets a lot more attention & excitement than vegetables, which spread to our surrounding community. The cherry harvesting was a large gathering event, and we had people of all ages picking off cherries. Many people did not know that cherries came from trees. A lot of neighborhood children got to climb the tree to pick off the cherries, which one of them told me was a “magical experience”.

— Marta Lynch

Cherry harvest at FNC Learning Farm

Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House – Erie Branch

We had a family stay with us from the midwest with a 10 year old wheelchair bound patient. The patient was upset because she had to miss her field trip to a farm while she was in Philly receiving treatment. We asked her to help us pick strawberries and June berries from our orchard. She was very happy to help!

Later in the season we had quite a few international families staying with us. The families loved to cook their own food. We introduced them to the herb garden and they loved it! A few of the families used the medicinal herbs for teas and poultices.

Many families, staff and volunteers were able to taste a fresh fig for the first time! They were all surprised at the difference between a fresh fig and a fig newton.

Carolann Costa


PhillyEarth @ The Village of Arts & Humanities

This year was one of the largest peach harvests we have ever had. Our students had an opportunity to make peach cobbler with freshly harvested peaches and many neighborhood residents were regularly harvesting peaches for their families.

— Jon Hopkins


Pastorius Community Gardens

Along the edge of the garden we planted a row of raspberries during the Spring planting. They filled out wonderfully and bore tons of fruit all throughout the growing season. Our gardeners were delighted, and several of them who manage their diabetes, were especially happy to have a source of a healthy berry sugar substitute. Because we don’t have a fence, lots of visitors to the garden got to pick the berries and partake in their delicious flavor. Their taste often surprised people, not at all the store-bought berry!

— Vita Litvak

Berry vision at Overbrook School for the Blind!

Overbrook School for The Blind

This year our Fig trees did well and the two students who were working Farm to Table were very excited. They graduated but came back to volunteer for our Garden clean-up weekend and they were thrilled to see all the ripe figs. They harvested the figs and Anthony’s Restaurant in Drexel Hill agreed to buy them. The 2 students went with the staff person to deliver the figs to the restaurant. The students were very proud and excited. Anthony’s even put a picture of the figs on their website!

— Roseann McLaughlin


Awbury Arboretum

I can tell you from first hand experience that the fruits from the orchard are a huge draw for visitors at the Ag Village. Youngsters are much more inclined to try fruits or herbs, than they are vegetables. Volunteers from Teen Inc said “no thanks” to veggies but specifically asked for fruit to try.  POP’s figs were just the ticket. That was their snack after a couple of hours of volunteer service late one afternoon in September. The kids were so grateful, more so I feel, then if I gave them something “packaged”.

That fig tree is like a burning bush in the desert! Everyone loves to stand around it to pick and eat the fruit, and because it fruits over a long stretch of time, and the fruit is often in various stages of development, I like to describe how to tell when the fruit is ripe.  

— Leslie Cerf


Edible Belmont

Yesterday we saw a woman marveling at a persimmon on the sidewalk and looking around to find the source. She excitedly stuck it in her purse and flagged us down when she saw us on the porch. “Do you know what this is?” she exclaimed. “My son just brought one of these home from school and I had never seen it before. I couldn’t believe it when I saw this tree!”

Abundant persimmon harvest at Preston’s Paradise in Edible Belmont.

Weavers Way Farm

This was by far the best year for our paw paw trees! We introduced the fruit to so many people at our farm market. People who were already familiar with the fruit were ecstatic to see it on the table, and people who were not familiar with it were intrigued to give it a try!

— Nina Berryman



The week after memorial day, it had been raining all weekend, and my first day back to the orchard I noticed a bunch of clumps under our oak trees in our wood chip patch. Upon further inspection, the clumps were loads of wine-cap mushrooms!! We had inoculated the wood chip patch in the orchard the previous fall, but I had all but given up after I had expected mushrooms to come up in April. That week, our Cook for a Friend program prepared loads of wine-cap mushroom soup and gravy with our meals that benefit homebound older adults. The mushrooms were gorgeous in color, tasted great, and kept coming up for a couple of weeks — it was such a delight!

—John Eskate


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.

POP Partner Feature: Casa Del Carmen

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Volunteers gather at Casa Del Carmen after a productive day of orchard planting in 2016

Part of Catholic Social ServicesCasa Del Carmen is a bilingual, bicultural family service center in North Philadelphia that’s provided over 50 years of service to the Latino immigrant community in Hunting Park (4400 N Reese St, 19140). Last year, 21,000 people were impacted by Casa’s work in the spirit of ‘nuestra casa es su casa‘ (‘our house is your house’) ensuring that all clients have their basic needs for survival met with access to two food markets, a clothing bank, nutrition education, rent/mortgage and utility assistance, public assistance counselors, maternity education, ESL, and preschool offerings for young children.

Casa’s food program is a central component to their work, as administrator Chris Gale says, and their approach is unique. In partnership with the Coalition Against Hunger and The Green Light Market, only one of two in Philadelphia, Casa offers a food market for clients where they can select from fruits and vegetables grown in Casa’s backyard, frozen meats, and nonperishables. In fall 2015, Casa and partners took providing empowering food access one step further through partnering with the Philadelphia Orchard Project to turn what once was a grassy largely underutilized backyard garden into a fully realized orchard with fruit tree plantings, berry vines and bushes, and a perennial herb understory.

Although the orchard has yet to generate a sizable harvest, still being in its infancy, Gale says they anticipate the orchard being a major component of Casa’s nutrition program and food markets. “We’d like to see clients tending the orchard and being able to pick the fruit right from the trees.” Another way Gale sees the orchard space as integrated into Casa’s larger programming is through preschool program. “The children are already back there everyday because the playground is back there, but I dream of using the orchard as a living classroom, teaching the children nutrition and basic biology through the site.”

Staff members Janet DeJesus, Miguel Trigo, and John Hernandez have taken ownership of the site to make sure all is growing well in between quarterly POP visits to the site to check on the health of the plantings. Gale calls the orchard space “truly a greater Philadelphia effort” with estimates that nearly 100 volunteers from Villanova, Temple, Drexel, La Salle, Friends Central and the Junior League have helped to plant or maintain the site during days of service.

Resource tent for new mothers at Casa’s Community Baby Shower

“We’re still waiting for fruit,” Gale says, “but we’re very excited about the thought of harvests with the community.” In the meantime, clients can look forward to Casa’s other main programming including the Community Babyshower coming up on April 21st and again in August, where new and expectant mothers can tap into community resources and enjoy raffles, food, and music during the big celebration that’s held in Casa’s parking lot. To learn more about Casa’s work, visit their site here. 

This POP Partner Feature written by Education Director Alyssa Schimmel.

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.  

POP History 2008 & Volunteer Highlight: Kim Jordan

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“One of the most fun and fulfilling experiences as a POP volunteer has been to interact with kids who are there to help, learn, and explore.” -Kim Jordan, 2008 POP Golden Persimmon volunteer

In honor of the Philadelphia Orchard Project’s 10th anniversary in 2017, we’ll be looking back at a different year in our history every month.  We’ll also designate Golden Persimmon Awards for each year in recognition of the extraordinary efforts of our volunteers.

Volunteers at POP’s first school orchard planting at Hartranft Elementary at North Philly in 2008.
Philadelphia Orchard Project History: 2008
The work of the Philadelphia Orchard Project really took off in our second year.  POP hired its first staff member, Orchard Director Phil Forsyth in spring 2008.  Phil and POP’s Orchard Committee planted 7 new community orchards that year, including several that remain flagship sites today.  Working with community partners the East Park Revitalization Alliance and the Naomi Wood Trust, POP planted the Woodford Orchard, our first site on Philadelphia Parks & Recreation property and home to many future harvest festivals and events.  We also planted our first school orchard at Hartranft Elementary in North Philly in partnership with the Mural Arts Program; orchards with Historic Fair Hill and Francisville NDC; and the first of several orchards in partnership with the Teens 4 Good program of the Federation of Neighborhood Centers.  POP also installed a food forest demonstration at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington DC, with all the plant material moved to orchards sites in Philadelphia at the end of the year.

POP ORCHARDS PLANTED in 2008:  Woodford, FNC Teens 4 Good Farm @ Poplar, Historic Fair Hill, Francisville, Hartranft Elementary, Chester Ave Community Garden, Nicetown
2008 MEDIA COVERAGE: An Elf in an Orchard, Philadelphia Inquirer
2008 GOLDEN PERSIMMON VOLUNTEERS:  Kim Jordan & Bruce Schimmel
2008 POP BOARD PRESIDENT: Domenic Vitiello

POP’s food forest installation at the US Botanic Garden in Washington DC, in site of the Capitol!

 One of the most fun and fulfilling experiences as a POP volunteer has been to interact with kids who are there to help, learn, and explore. Besides the joy of being outside and digging around in the dirt, which may be an uncommon experience for city dwellers with concrete backyards or no outdoor space to speak of, each volunteer experience at a community orchard provides unexpected opportunities for informal learning for people from all over the city. My favorite memories are from the many potlucks and harvest festivals that have occurred over the years: even if you don’t know the person next to you, you can connect over sharing a handful of raspberries or a freshly picked fig.

I moved to Philadelphia in 2004, and first met some of POP’s founding members due to my involvement in local politics. Having grown up in California’s San Francisco Bay Area, I thought it was a novelty to live in a swing state. After volunteering on some unsuccessful campaigns for progressive candidates and after learning about the Philadelphia political scene— I decided to join friends in trying to promote the idea of planting community orchards in some of Philly’s 40,000 vacant lots and began volunteering with POP in 2007.

I grew up with apricot, apple, orange and almond trees in my backyard, but with minimal horticultural experience: I was glad others brought that expertise, namely POP’s founding Executive Director, Phil Forsyth. What attracted me to POP was the opportunity to do something positive: bringing beauty along with the added benefit of fresh fruit to neighborhoods lacking access to produce. Even knowing that fruit trees can take years to mature, we thought these community orchards, planted in large numbers across the city, would contribute to lowering food insecurity. We’ve since learned that although established orchards produce hundreds of pounds of fruit distributed within the surrounding community, POP orchards are most admired for their educational opportunities and for creating beautiful and welcoming green spaces.

Getting to know some of Philly’s less-visited neighborhoods and working alongside people who cared deeply about improving their community spaces, affected me deeply as I continued to visit the same orchards and see them develop from year to year. Personally, my experiences with POP starting as a volunteer, then later as a Board member serving as President, Vice President, and Treasurer, caused me to change my career path and to remain in Philadelphia rather than moving back to the West Coast. Instead of becoming an academic research scientist as I intended to do when initially moving here, I now work at a nonprofit that supports the city’s parks and I continue to volunteer with POP to help plant and support orchards, and strengthen communities.

I look forward to many more years of plantings, harvest festivals, fresh-pressed apple cider, and creating strong connections and new friendships in POP’s community orchards.

Tending the Woodford Orchard, planted in 2008 in partnership with the East Park Revitalization Alliance, Naomi Wood Trust, with support from Philadelphia Parks & Recreation.

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.  

POP Partner Feature: PhillyEarth @ Village of Arts & Humanities

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Newly sheetmulched PhillyEarth Food Forest in spring 2016.

Tucked away on an unassuming side street in North Philly, a large portion of the vacant lots on the west side of the 2500 block of North Warnock Street are buzzing with life and innovation. What once was a series of crumbling rowhomes is now a hub of outdoor learning for young people interested in self-sufficiency, regenerative systems, and improving their connection to the earth through the programming of PhillyEarth.

Since 2012, PhillyEarth has been the Permaculture education and demonstration center of The Village of Arts and Humanities, a nonprofit that has become a mainstay of the neighborhood since its inception nearly 30 years ago. While a large portion of the day-to-day arts and professional training that goes on at The Village is housed in its various reclaimed rowhome offices, the organization is famous for its public murals, mosaics, sculpture gardens, and neighborhood aesthetic improvements spanning for many blocks around. PhillyEarth’s mission adds to that history of cultural preservation and community empowerment by using underutilized space for growing food and constructing multifunctional infrastructure out of repurposed materials.

POP hosted a tour of PhillyEarth and The Village in 2015. Here you get a glimpse of the beautiful murals and mosaics that light up the landscape.

PhillyEarth works with youth of varying ages from the surrounding neighborhoods and recruited through Saul Agricultural High School for a semester at a time, roughly three months each. The current session, over in early March, has 16 students. Robyn had the privilege of meeting half of the middle and high school students over the last week for a conversation about orchards and healthy eating and fruit tree pruning, respectively. The education they’re getting from PhillyEarth and its partners is unlike anything they’re getting in their schools, so there was plenty of excitement in the room as questions came up about the life cycles of perennial plants, ingredients in the foods we eat, where foods come from, what “organic” means, and much, much more.

Robyn spending some time with the current PhillyEarth cohort

POP planted several fruit trees with the Village back in 2010 and has partnered with the PhillyEarth program since its inception.  Last year the relationship and the orchard space were expanded through the installation of PhillyEarth’s demonstration food forest on the corner of North Warnock Street and West Cumberland Street. Hundreds of perennial herbs and groundcovers, berry brambles, berry shrubs, and young fruit trees were planted in spring and fall of 2016 with the help of POP volunteers.  The new plantings were made possible by a grant from the Philadelphia Chapter of the Garden Club of America.  

Asian pears at the PhillyEarth Orchard!

Jon Hopkins, PhillyEarth’s Director, and the youth with whom he works are excited about their future of fruit. Despite the immaturity of most of the orchard plantings, participants in PhillyEarth programming harvested upwards of 200 pounds of fruit and herbs in 2016. “At the farmstand, the hottest ticket items are the fruits, especially with the kids,” Hopkins said, while the youth around him nodded emphatically. He estimates that half of the produce grown on site is sold by youth at their farmstand next to the main Village of Arts building on Germantown Avenue, and the rest is taken home to PhillyEarth families. Whatever isn’t consumed by humans is fed to the chickens who live at the farm, and everything that’s inedible becomes compost to build soil for next season’s food. Nothing goes to waste.

Inside the Earthship greenhouse where the solar-powered aquaponics system is housed, still growing kale in January!

In addition to providing a safe space for youth to spend their time outside of school, the farm and food forest are full of projects constructed by the youth which demonstrate PhillyEarth’s core values of caring for people, caring for the earth, and working towards a healthy future. There are chickens housed in a chicken coop, a cob oven (sculpted sand, clay, and straw) , an Earthship greenhouse, an aquaponics system powered by solar panels, benches made out of pallets, big flower sculptures made from old hubcaps, a solar dehydrator, a living willow fence, and more. The PhillyEarth website has dozens of blog posts highlighting the many other sustainability and self-sufficiency projects that youth and neighborhood volunteers have participated in over the past few years. There’s a lot of beauty and ingenuity in frugality, and a really bright future in neighborhoods growing their own food. Like many of POP’s partners, PhillyEarth is leading the way.

One of the pallet benches and hubcap flowers in front of PhillyEarth’s living willow fence

This Orchard Update written by POP Orchard Director Robyn Mello.
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.  

Orchard Partner Stories: a look back at 2016

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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. Below are some of our favorites excerpts from 2016 celebrating the beauty, abundance, and power of orchards to serve as an engaging place of discovery and connection.


Historic Fair Hill

This year, our tiny little asian pear trees fruited. We planted them two years ago. Each pear was perfect. We must have harvested 20 lbs of pears–and those are only the ones that I was around for! Many neighbors for about two weeks were walking around, munching on pears. For two more weeks, I had people coming up to me saying, “Are there any of those pears left? They are so good!” I told them that in five years there would be more fruit growing here than we can imagine. They’d always smile like they were watching something incredible far away.  I like seeing people imagine their fruit trees five years bigger.

— Staff Gardener

The sweet-tart fruit of the nitrogen-fixing goumi at Awbury Arboretum.
The sweet-tart fruit of the nitrogen-fixing goumi at Awbury Arboretum.

Awbury Arboretum

I remember bringing a regularly visiting Awbury volunteer group of men to the POP orchard one summer day last year to help. We were weeding I think.  It seemed sort of boring at first, but then someone offered us to try goumi berries off a bush that was full and ripe with the berries. At first my group was hesitant, saying they had never heard of the fruit, but I think  all the men and everyone else there eventually tried the goumis, and this had an interesting effect our experience that day in the orchard.
We began to talk about fruits we liked growing up, remembering what plants our families grew in their gardens, and sharing almost forgotten herbal home remedies for illnesses our parents gave to us. 
The time we spent in the orchard that day helped us get to know each other more and  brought us closer together. I can see how gardening is a comfort and life changing at the same time. It reminds us of so much; yet it also spurs us to take hold of the present and dare ourselves. It helps us to try new things and to still reflect on our experiences and learn more about ourselves and each other.

— Leslie Cerf


Overbrook School for The Blind

Our students were able to taste figs for the first time from our fig tree. They would check the tree almost daily to get the figs before the squirrels! In late November, we made fig jam with the students. To quote our student, Elijah, when he tasted the jam: “It’s the bomb dot com!”

— Roseann McLaughlin


Tulpehocken Station Orchard

One Saturday, when a few volunteers were working in our train station garden, a woman using a cane appeared among us with a hand outstretched. It turned out she is a neighbor who is a retired professional gardener and now takes the train every morning to Chestnut Hill to spend time at the library and at other favorite haunts. She remembered when the train station grounds were a dump (literally), and said she loves what we have been doing to make it beautiful. She wished she could volunteer to work with us, but her physical limitations prevented that, so instead she handed us a check for $100–a big deal for our small coffers!

— Marjorie Russell


Pentridge Children’s Garden

Every year, including this one, the neighborhood kids have their eyes on the apple trees for ripe fruit. As soon as they start sizing up, they come through the gates excited to bring some home to their families. We have to be careful that we wait until they are truly ripe, but we do let them try them as they ripen so they can compare different stages. Some kids down the block from a Laotian family bring home some under-ripe fruits for processing. The garden is therefore a symbolic and actual source of abundance and joy for the kids and families who live nearby.  

— Owen Taylor

Volunteers planting a rain garden including a variety of edible plants at Lea Elementary.
Volunteers at Lea Elementary planting a rain garden including a variety of edible plants.

Lea Elementary

Our orchard empowers exploration. The Edible Fruit Forest rests in a school yard. Built and supported, mostly, by the community, the school attendants, from student to staff, [initially] paid it no attention. They hadn’t yet noticed that the space being developed on their grounds was for them and their use. Now, there are teachers touring, students exploring, and staff stooping under trees for lunch, noticing and acknowledging the space in simple, interactive ways.

— Kaamilah Milton


Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission

This year, we had a lot more raspberries to harvest and share. We served the raspberries in small cups to the guests that came for meals. Most of the guests had never tried raspberries before, so they were really appreciative that we shared these fresh harvested fruits with them. It is also popular after their lunch for a healthy snack. We never felt this happy to share.

We have transformed part of the farm as a seating area. This space is important for the men in the Overcomers program to have a quiet and safe place to go and relax their minds. Visitors, volunteers and staff love to use this space to have lunch, gathering, and connect.

— Meei Ling Ng


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.

Orchard Update: Bartram’s Garden

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Big changes are in the works at Bartram’s Garden, the country’s first garden and home of the largest community orchard in the city.  This season, Bartram’s Garden unveiled their first major garden restoration in nearly 100 years. Construction is also underway on the Bartram’s Mile trail, which will connect the Garden to the popular Schuylkill River Trail in Center City as well as providing a new river park and bikepath in Southwest Philadelphia.  Finally, after a successful five-year partnership between the Garden, the University of Pennsylvania Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Parks and Recreation, and the Philadelphia Orchard Project, the Farm at Bartram’s Garden has entered a new phase as a neighborhood-based program to support food sovereignty and youth empowerment in Southwest Philadelphia.

To celebrate POP’s commitment to and support the Farm in its transition, please join us for our Orchard to Table Dinner at Bartram’s Garden on Tuesday, September 13.

The Farm at Bartram's Garden
The Farm at Bartram’s supports youth empowerment and food sovereignty in Southwest Philadelphia!

Since its founding in 2011, the Farm has always been a hub for learning, sharing, and growth—not to mention delicious food!  With support from POP, the first fruit trees were planted in the Farm’s Orchard in the fall of 2011. The Farm now hosts more than 120 fruit and nut trees, as well as extensive berry plantings.  The Orchard demonstrates the breadth of what can be grown in our region, and its diversity helps illustrate John Bartram’s significant legacy as a plant collector.  Plantings include heirloom varieties of apples, pears, and other common fruits; unusual fruits like medlars, jujubes, che, and shipova; and a section of native fruits including paw paws, persimmons, and American plums.  The ‘Lady Petre’ pear was John Bartram’s own favorite variety and is worthy of a story of its own.  Many of the orchard trees are really starting to produce, leading to bumper crops of Nanking cherries, plums, figs, and the first almonds from a POP orchard!

The Orchard at Bartram's Farm features over 120 fruit and nut trees!
The Orchard at Bartram’s Farm features over 120 fruit and nut trees, demonstrating the breadth of what can be grown in Philadelphia!

The Orchard is cared for by the staff, youth farmers, and volunteers of the Farm at Bartram’s Garden, with ongoing support from POP and the Garden’s horticultural staff.  The fruit is harvested and distributed to the community by the Farm, supplementing the wide array of vegetables, berries, and herbs they grow.  Last season, powered by 22 paid local high school interns, the Farm produced more than 12,000 pounds of food, worked alongside 45 Southwest families in the community garden, provided hands-on education for more than 9,000 schoolchildren through Bartram’s Garden programming, distributed over 80,000 vegetable transplants through the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) City Harvest program for more than 130 farms and gardens around Philadelphia, hosted over 1,500 volunteers, and held 50 affordable weekly farmstands.

Bartram's farmstand
Community youth sell produce grown at the Farm and Orchard at affordable prices at a weekly neighborhood farmstand.

Agriculture was a vital part of life at the Bartram homestead in colonial times, and today the Farm and Orchard provide many valuable opportunities for reconnecting with and building upon this important legacy. The Farm’s mission includes hands-on opportunities for community members and youth to grow, preserve, and prepare their own food. These efforts range from sharing seedlings to providing community garden plots and tools to hosting cooking and food preparation workshops. Believing in the importance of lifelong learning and mentorship, the Farm programming includes a special focus on providing community youth with practical skills and helping them develop lifelong habits for good health and self-sufficiency.  To read more about this vital program and support their current transition, please visit the Farm at Bartram’s Garden campaign page at gofundme.com/BartramsFarm.

Volunteers are welcome on Second Saturdays to explore and help maintain the Orchard at Bartram's.
Volunteers are welcome on Second Saturdays to explore and help maintain the Farm and Orchard at Bartram’s.

Volunteers are welcome at the Farm and Orchard on the second Saturday of most months. Visit bartramsgarden.org for more details.  All are welcome to visit and explore the Orchard, Farm, and historic garden during open hours at Bartram’s Garden from dawn to dusk, year round.

Orchard update written by Bartram’s Garden Farmer Ty Holmberg and POP’s Phil Forsyth

POP Newsletter Winter 2016

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, NewslettersTags , , , , , ,
“The peach tree in the Sayre Garden is famous. This year it produced over 150 lbs of peaches, and Ms. Angie–our longest subscribed CSA member who also happens to have roots in Georgia–says they were the best peaches she has ever had.”

–Miki Palchick, Sayre High School Orchard

We thank you for supporting our vision of a more beautiful, bountiful Philadelphia!
Here are some highlights from our fall season:
  • Planted our 1000th fruit tree and supported our 50th community orchard site!
  • Launched our new Philadelphia Orchard Project Blog and facebook page
  • Assisted with brand new orchard plantings at the Philadelphia Montessori Charter School, Lea Elementary, and Casa del Carmen.
  • Involved 2500 volunteers and participants in 51 events including orchard plantings, work days, workshops, tours, harvests, and festivals
  • Celebrated our 5th annual Philadelphia Orchard Week with over 1800 participants at orchard sites across the city!
We hope you will take a few minutes to read below about some of the interesting people and stories we encountered along the way.  
Members of the Sayre High School farm crew with their famous peach tree!
Please read below for more info about POP’s latest efforts:
  • fall season summary
  • 2015 POP orchard survey results
  • POP orchard partner stories
  • POP in the news
  • annual appeal update
  • how you can help!

Fall 2015 Season Summary

Orchard Plantings.  POP’s core work of planting and supporting community orchards in the city continues to grow, and we are now working with 53 different orchard sites in neighborhoods across the city!  299 volunteers joined with us and our partners at 12 orchard planting events this fall.  Brand new orchards were planted with the Philadelphia Montessori Charter School in West Philly, Lea Elementary in West Philly, and Casa del Carmen Catholic Charities Service Center in North Philadelphia. We also expanded existing orchard sites at Solid Rock Church, Awbury Arboretum, Tilden Middle School, Historic Fair Hill, Teens 4 Good Poplar Farm, Woodford Mansion, Teens 4 Good Carousel Farm, and Bartram’s Garden. To read more about all our orchard partners and view a map of POP sites: phillyorchards.org/orchards.
At the Philadelphia Montessori Charter School in West Philly, the concrete schoolyard was depaved and then planted with fruit trees, berries, and pollinator gardens!
Harvest, Gleaning & Preservation.  Eight POPHarvest gleaning events were held during our fall season, where an estimated 3,600 pounds of fruit were harvested by nearly 300 volunteers for take home and for donation. An additional 50 gallons of fresh apple cider were pressed! We harvested apples from unused orchards and street trees, crabapples from UPenn, Asian pears from streets and backyards, ginkgos, persimmons, and trifoliate oranges from historic sites, and hawthorns from an urban farm. Stay up to date with 2016 harvesting events and become part of growing this program to make use of underutilized fruits by becoming a member of the POPHarvest listserv.
POPHarvest Apple Gleaning Taylor Farm 2015
Nearly 60 people gathered for the POPHarvest event at Taylors Farm in Cinnaminson, NJ to harvest apples from the overburdened trees, press cider, share food and stories, and tidy the orchard!
Orchard Education.  POP continues to train and educate our orchard partners through a diverse workshop series on orchard care and related topics, consulting visits by POP staff, and POP TIPS shared through thePhiladelphia Orchard Group (PHOG), our orchard education email listserv.  This fall, we added thePhiladelphia Orchard Project Blog to our website as an expanded, searchable resource for our partners and the general public.  Besides covering a wide range of orchard care topics, the blog will also feature content highlighting specific orchard plants, cooking and preservation techniques, interviews with POP partners and volunteers, and more!  Please join us for some upcoming workshops:
5th Annual Philadelphia Orchard Week.  This October we expanded Philadelphia Orchard Weekend into a full week, and over 1800 participants celebrated with us at orchard sites across the city. Events included orchard plantings, harvest festivals, apple picking, cider pressing, a plant sale, crafts and games, volunteer opportunities, and more!  POP also supported harvest festivals this fall at Solid Rock Church and the Overbrook Environmental Education Center.

2015 POP Orchard Survey Results
Our third annual partner survey showed several exciting trends reinforcing POP’s work in communities throughout Philadelphia and pointed out various improvements which can be made to enhance our programming and outreach. Orchards continue to be valued most highly as educational spaces and for their impact on community and environmental health, but more established orchards are increasingly being valued for their food production as plants continue to mature. This year our partners reported a 126% increase in the number of people who tasted something grown in a POP orchard and a 38% increase in the number of people who used an orchard as a gathering space! Though it’s difficult to accurately track yields when nearly 30% is harvested by community members for free consumption, partners reported orchard yield totals for the season 67% higher than in 2014–nearly 4,000 pounds. Combined with the 3,600 pounds volunteers picked in our POPHarvest program, that makes for a lot of fruit!  82% of POP partners participated in the survey this year and as a thank you, POP is distributing a requested orchard item, including pruning tools, pole harvesters, produce scales, and neem oil to all participants.

Philadelphia Orchard Week harvest festival at Historic Fair Hill.  In POP’s 2015 orchard survey, our partners reported that over 5800 people used POP orchards as community gathering spaces this year!
2015 Orchard Partner Stories
Every year we ask our orchard partners to reflect on the year in the orchard, and to share with us stories about what the orchard is providing for their community.
Our orchard is a place where curiosity grows, is nurtured and celebrated. Like a flock of birds chirping, I hear a chorus of “What’s that?!” and see wide open eyes when I tell them that the funny-looking little green knobs on those branches are going to be pears, or that the small, greenish brown, unappealing blobs over here are called figs and actually taste something like soft honey. Our students find amazement and fun every time they come into our garden orchard–a safe haven where children can be free to learn. I think you are doing great things for Philadelphia! Keep up the good work!”
Victoria Mehl, Garden Manager, Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School

Tulpehocken Orchard: the miraculous power of community

In years gone by, those who rode SEPTA’s Chestnut Hill West Regional Rail Line learned to recognize the Tulpehocken stop not by the sign on the station building but by the fact that for over thirty years the grounds around this historic station building had been a dump-a feral cat sanctuary and a tangle of junk trees, weeds (including poison ivy), logs, mattress inner springs, disabled appliances, tires, and fencing from previous garden plots now unrecognizable. It was even the proverbial “farm” to which unwanted pets are sent: there was a suitcase containing the remains of a dog!

Plant a fruit tree in celebration or honor of a loved one!
Plant trees to celebrate: birthdays, holidays, employee recognition, anniversaries, new births, graduations, Earth Day.

$60 plants a fruit tree in Philadelphia that can provide a community with 150 pounds of fruit per year for decades to come! Give a gift that keeps giving back.

POP in the News!
This season POP was featured in the following media coverage:

Board Elections

POP’s Board of Directors elected new officers in December 2015: President Aron Goldschneider, President-Elect Bertina Whytehead, Treasurer Brian Olszak, and Secretary Martha Moffat.  We heartily thank our outgoing officers and look forward to continued organizational growth under the new!

Annual Appeal Update
Thank you again to everyone who helped us during our annual appeal campaign this year! Together we were able to raise $16,352, which supports our work maintaining these community spaces of beauty and bounty, educating volunteers and orchard enthusiasts, and installing new orchards in the city of Philadelphia. We are still just shy of our $20,000 goal, and you can help us get there by making a tax-deductible donation today!
Other Ways You Can Help!
Your Amazon purchases can benefit POP. . . at no cost to you.
You can direct Amazon to give a percentage of all purchases to POP
Join POP’s Committees 
We’re always looking for more good volunteers for POP’s operating committees!  To help our Education Committee with developing new blog content, educational materials and curriculum, please contact Robyn Mello (robyn@phillyorchards.org).  To assist our Events Committee with
organizing fundraising events, tabling at events, or for info about hosting a house party for POP, please contact Tanya Grinblat (tanya@phillyorchards.org).  Experienced volunteers are invited to join POP’s Orchard Committee and work directly with our orchard partners; for more info contact Phil Forsyth (phil@phillyorchards.org).
Volunteer at Orchard Plantings and Events
POP’s fall event season will be announced soon!  To receive updates about upcoming volunteer opportunities, please sign up for our volunteer list on our website (phillyorchards.org/volunteer/signup).

Phil Forsyth, Executive Director
Philadelphia Orchard Project