Farming for the Future: Recap of the 2018 PASA Winter Conference

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POP staff were thrilled to attend Farming for the Future, the 2018 PASA Winter Conference.

The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, or PASA, is the largest statewide, member-based sustainable farming organization in the United States, which grew out of the need for an educational and support system for farmers – both experienced and beginning. PASA works to improve the economic viability, environmental soundness and social responsibility of food and farming systems in Pennsylvania and across the country with a mission to promote profitable farms that produce healthy food for all people while respecting the natural environment. Their work is rooted in education and support for farmers, and outreach to the general public.

Fedco Trees display some historic apple varietals for the upcoming growing season

PASA’s signature event is the annual Winter Conference that POP’s Education Director Alyssa and Orchard Director Michael just attended. It is widely regarded as one of the best of its kind in the East, a vehicle for community building and education that brings together farmers, processors, consumers, students, environmentalists, and business and community leaders.

This year’s theme was Farming for the Future: Farming in a Time of Transition, which seems all too true! The content was impressive with almost any farming topic imaginable represented through the 100+ speakers, intensive workshops, and 90+ trade show vendors. While there is an abundance to soak in educationally, the opportunity to network and socialize is equally present all day and evening for four full days – if you haven’t taken in too much and need a nap!

This year had more orchard-related content than ever with intensive workshops on all of the following topics and more:

  • Organic Apple and Peach Production
  • Kiwi Berries, Strawberries, Raspberries, Blackberries, and Blueberries
  • Biological Orcharding
  • Holistic Orchard Spray Decisions
  • Biological Alchemy
  • Urban Ecosystems
  • Urban Farmer Real Talk

POP staff attempted to soak in as much of this content as possible! Michael Phillips, a pioneer of holistic orcharding, had numerous workshops that dove into the many biological connections that can contribute to a healthy orchard ecosystem. And if you were lucky, you got to chat him up over a drink afterwards!

Michael Phillips encourages adopting fungal consciousness during his Biological Alchemy workshop, recognizing symbiosis as a principle life strategy

In Biological Orcharding and Alchemy workshops with Phillips, we dove into the details of beneficial fungal connections and how fungi create symbiotic relationships with plants and plant networks, soil building and the importance of all trace minerals, the immune system and physiology of orchard plants, the role of biodiversity in providing services to the plant community you are cultivating and the environment at large- including beneficial insects that will eat your pests, holistic orchard products and ways to produce your own from available materials. The work that Michael Phillips does aligns with much of what we encourage in POP Orchards and Food Forests.

Community activist Karen Washington addresses the crisis of malnourishment that affects 795 million people worldwide.

Other notable highlights included a keynote address and breakout sessions with the formidable Karen Washington of Rise & Root Farm, a community activist whose work in New York City explores food access, justice, and sovereignty at the intersections of race, class, gender, climate change, and the current economic and political systems. A powerhouse of knowledge and passion, Washington inspired dynamic conversations among attendees — exploring and depicting what food justice and sovereignty look and feel like, truly, in an era where the terms themselves can be threatened by rhetorical overuse if not embodied.

To grow your own food gives you power and dignity. You know exactly what youre eating because you grew it.  Its good, its nourishing and you did this for yourself, your family and your community.” Karen Washington

The PASA conference is a magical place, where you get to meet and hear from knowledgeable farmers from all over you would probably never come across other than on their farms, as well as busy urban farmers that you might also never see unless you’re working together to plant, prune, weed, mulch, and harvest.

We were happy to see Philadelphia well represented with Soil Generation Solidarity uprooting racism, Norris Square Neighborhood Project teaching hyper-local apothecary skills, Heritage Farm with high functioning high tunnels, Robyn Mello distilling her urban social and landscape ecosystem design considerations, Cloud 9 Rooftop Farm discussing small space and vertical gardening with recycled materials, many other Philly farmers running around and in discussion, and an urban farmer meetup hosted by Urban Tree Connection, Penn State Extension, and The Food Trust.

More good news for Philly area farmers- next year’s conference will be closer- to be held in Lancaster rather than State College. We highly recommend attending in the future if it’s your jam!  

This conference recap was written by Orchard Director Michael Muehlbauer, with contributions from Education Director Alyssa Schimmel. 

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

2018 POP Winter Newsletter

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“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, Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House

Happy Figuary!  We thank you for supporting our vision of a more beautiful, bountiful Philadelphia. Here are some highlights from POP’s fall season: 

  • Planted our 1,206th fruit tree and supported our 59th community orchard site!
  • Celebrated our 7th annual Philadelphia Orchard Week with over 1800 participants at harvest festivals and orchard events across the city
  • Assisted with brand new orchard plantings with the Norris Square Neighborhood Project and South Philadelphia High School
  • POP’s new school orchard program published our first complete orchard-based lesson plan
  • Celebrated POP’s 10th Anniversary and were featured in PHS’s GROW Magazine
We hope you will take a few minutes to read below about some of the interesting people and stories we encountered along the way. 

FALL 2017 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 59 different orchard sites in neighborhoods across the city! 204 volunteers joined with us and our partners at 14 orchard planting events this fall. Brand new orchards were planted with the Norris Square Neighborhood Project and South Philadelphia High School. We also expanded existing orchard sites at Bartram’s Garden, Tilden Middle School, Bartram High School, Pastorius Community Gardens, Monumental Baptist Church, Lea Elementary, Sayre High School, Penn Park, and Jewish Farm School. To read more about our orchard partners and view a map of POP sites: phillyorchards.org/orchards.


SCHOOL ORCHARD PROGRAM

2017 was the kickoff year for POP’s new School Orchard Program. Education Director Alyssa Schimmel collaborated with POP’s 12 city school orchard partners to begin developing a database of materials to activate the orchards as centers of learning and exploration. Across all sites, POP was able to teach 250 students through 44 school visits, with 14 formal lessons delivered in 2017. Read more about POP’s new school orchard program here! 


ORCHARD EDUCATION

POP continues to educate our orchard partners through diverse offerings including orchard care workshops, consulting visits by POP staff, POP TIPS shared through the Philadelphia Orchard Group (PHOG), and the Philadelphia Orchard Project Blog. This season’s educational programs included workshops on jam-making, fruit tree care, permaculture, and harvest and use of orchard plants. Join us for our upcoming 4-part POPCORE orchardist training course at Bartram’s Garden in March!


ORCHARD WEEK & HARVEST FESTIVALS

This year we celebrated our 7th annual Philadelphia Orchard Week with over 1800 participants at orchard sites across the city. Events included orchard plantings, work days, harvest festivals, cider pressing, plant sale, crafts and games, volunteer opportunities, and more!  In addition to POP’s 10th Anniversary Celebration in September, we also kicked off the holiday season with a Winter Wassailing event at Awbury Arboretum in December. Join us for our first ever Fig Fest coming up on February 24!


ORCHARD PARTNER STORIES

Every year we ask our orchard partners to reflect on the year in the orchard, and to share stories about what the orchard is providing for their community:

“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, FNC Poplar Learning Farm

Read more partner stories here!


2017 Orchard Partner Survey Summary

Results of our 5th annual partner survey provided valuable feedback showing the impact of POP’s programs and guiding our efforts to provide the best support to our partners. This year ‘Beauty and Neighborhood Greening’ was rated as the highest value of the orchard spaces. Partners reported 4385 individuals participated in caring for POP orchards in 2017 (twice last year’s total); another 4681 tasted something grown in a POP orchard; and 5386 used them as a gathering space. The survey again showed that almost all orchard produce is distributed within the neighborhood where it’s grown, including 57% harvested by or given for free to community members. POP partners reported total harvests of 3689 pounds of orchard produce. 81% 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 guidebooks to all participants.

Read more survey results here!


POP Blog

POP’s urban orchard blog continues to cover a variety of topics in ecological orchard care as well as highlight our plants, programs, partners, and volunteers.  You can follow our blog or search it for past topics.  Some recent posts include:

POP Orchard Feature: Jewish Farm School

POP History 2016 & Volunteer Highlight: Angelina Conti

POP History 2015 & Volunteer Highlight: Tony Dorman

POP Fig Varieties and Introducing Megan Brookens: A Fellow Fig Lover!

POP History 2014 & Volunteer Highlight: Ryan Kuck

Fall Foraging: Crabapples and Gingko Nuts and Leaves


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.

Workplace donations through United Way, Earthshare, Benevity

POP can now accept workplace donations via United Way (#53494), Earthshare, and Benevity: ask your employer about how to set up tax-exempt contributions and matching donations to support our work. We are also now able to accept stock transfers, so you can divest, and then invest in planting the future with 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 Alyssa Schimmel (alyssa@phillyorchards.org). To assist our Events Committee with organizing fundraising events or helping with outreach activities, 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 Michael (michael@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).

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.  

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

How did we do last year? POP’s 2016 Orchard Survey Summary

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POP has been surveying all of our orchard partners at season’s end since 2013. Each year’s qualitative and quantitative results have shown growth, improvement, and areas in need of more attention. We want to share some of what we’ve learned with you!

In all, 46 of 56 total POP partners (82%) participated in our 2016 survey. As a thank you, POP is distributing a requested orchard item, such as pruning tools, pole harvesters, produce scales, neem oil, or a desired plant, to all participating partners.

46 of POP’s 56 community partners participated in our 2016 orchard survey!

Orchard Value

This section is intended to help us understand what our partners value most about their orchards. The highest percentage of respondents rated “Educational Opportunities” in orchards as having the “highest value” (57%) for the fourth year in a row. Partners also most frequently placed Highest Value and High Value on orchard contributions to “Beauty and Neighborhood Greening” and “Environmental Impact.” A relatively lower rating for the value of food production and distribution is somewhat distorted by responses from younger and newly planted orchards that have not yet come into full production (a process that can take 5 years). However, many of our partner sites with more established plantings or larger numbers of plants rated food production and distribution with highest value.

To exemplify the varied things that can come from an orchard space: “POP’s initial planting day at Penn Alexander School was also the catalyst for a partnership between Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Streets Department, and University City District.  Additionally, Penn Alexander School Garden and Orchard won the ‘Garden of Distinction Award’ in the 2016 Pennsylvania Horticulture Society Gardening Contest–selected from among 300 entries!” Other specific uses of orchard spaces mentioned involve being refuges and resources for wildlife, sources of still life for art students, spaces of honor and memorial for loved ones, spaces for therapy, and spaces for safe play and exploration for children.

Penn Alexander School students spreading mulch and compost during our spring 2016 orchard planting.

The survey’s request for stories illustrating the value of the orchard always provide some heartening responses that help provide qualitative support for the impact of POP’s work. The most common theme of these responses is the value of educating and exposing people to freshly grown fruit, the reactions that people have to tasting things for the first time, the lessons involved in learning to care for their orchard spaces, and the ways in which children respond to the spaces. More than half of all respondents also took time to write into at least one of their answers how thankful they are for the work that POP staff do for partners and their communities. Some of the most exciting partner testimonials from the 2016 season are contained in a separate blog post here.

Community Involvement

This set of questions was intended to assess the number of people involved with and affected by our orchards.  Surveys reported:

  • A total of 324 people throughout the city participate at least monthly in orchard care. This number is up 30% from last year’s survey.
  • 2,200 people participated at least once in orchard care.  This number is up 22% from last year.
  • 60% of respondents tend to their orchards at least every other week, and half of respondents have organized workdays at least once per month, doubling last year’s response!
  • 4,609 people tasted something grown in a partner orchard.
  • 4,300 people used a POP partner orchard as a gathering space.
  • 4,800 people participated in educational programs at orchards. This number is up 38% from 2015!

Significant increases in regular attention, participation in regularly scheduled workdays, and the number of people participating in educational programming is fantastic news! These improvements in just one season are very encouraging indicators that our increasing number of orchard spaces and maturing orchards are reaching more people.

Over 2200 individuals participated in caring for POP orchards in 2016 (in all kinds of weather)!

Distribution

This section was intended to assess where the produce from POP orchards is being distributed. Of total produce yielded by community orchards in 2016,

  • 44% was harvested for free by community members (up 15% from 2015)
  • 21% was distributed for free to community members (down 4% from 2015)
  • 11% was lost to pest or diseases (up 3% from 2015)
  • 6% was processed into value-added products (up 3% from 2015)
  • 5% was sold at on-site farm stands! (down 3% from 2015)
  • 5% was sold off-site at farmers’ markets (down 4% from 2015)
  • 5% of ripe fruit went unharvested (down 3% from 2015)
  • 2% was donated to emergency food pantries, and (not tracked in 2015)
  • 1% was sold via Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares (down 2% from 2015)

The most significant and promising change shown is the 15% increase in produce being harvested by community members for their own use. This demonstrates increased involvement, agency, empowerment, education, and orchards continuing to be woven into the fabric of the neighborhoods in which they’re housed.

Mill Creek plums
Mill Creek Farm’s plum trees studded with fruit this summer!

Orchard Production

This section was intended to evaluate what plants are yielding the best, gather data on actual production levels where available, and discover the production problems with which our partners need the most assistance. Compared to last year, 57% of applicable respondents reported an increase in orchard yield.

One of the challenges POP would like to address in coming years is expanding partners’ understandings of what is considered a “yield.” As orchard ecosystems mature, making use of understory plants in abundance will contribute to better overall maintenance and orchard value. Making more increased use of plants for medicine-making, fiber production, culinary spicing, and preserves are ways of expanding yields.

The total reported orchard production for 2016 is 5,000 pounds. This is a 28% increase, up from 3,910 pounds reported in 2015. The 3,910 pounds reported in 2015 was a 67% increase from 2014.

Based on survey analysis of tree fruits, peaches/nectarines, juneberries, plums, sweet cherries, apples, figs, and persimmons produced the highest yields, with juneberries, plums, sweet cherries, figs, persimmons, mulberries, and paw paws seeing the most significant increases in yields since 2015.  

Several berry and perennial vegetable yields saw a decrease in reported yield from 2015, with a notable exception of raspberries and blackberry harvests greatly increasing. Overall, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and asparagus continue to yield the best. The best producers have quickly spreading growth habits and few pest pressures, and the lowest producers are lesser-known, lesser-harvested, and lesser-planted shrubs in our orchards overall.

Based on previous survey data, increased attention was paid to care of raspberries and blackberries in 2016 and significantly increased yields resulted!

In 2015, there were significant decreases in yield among bramble berries (raspberries and blackberries, mostly), which POP attributed partially to a lack of proper pruning and maintenance during the previous winter. As a result, POP Staff made a push during the 2016 pruning season for orchard partners to increase care for these plants, and the increased yields this year suggest that this work paid off. This is strong evidence that survey data is important in guiding actions to improve overall orchard health and production.

Culinary and medicinal herbs were tracked a bit more this year, but education and encouragement to partners to harvest and track yields from these plants must continue. Mint, lemon balm, sage, and oregano were highest harvested plants.

Production Challenges and Recommendations

In 2016, 22 respondents believed they had extensive management problems in their orchard, and 24 believe they did not. However, 59% of respondents reported that their community orchards were easier to maintain in 2016 than in previous years.

Specific incidents of pest and disease problems are only as accurate as a partner’s ability to identify them, so it’s also likely that there are more problems than were reported. Nonetheless, reporting seems to have improved in 2016 so that we have enhanced ability to know what to continue education around. Four orchards report they had no problems at all. The highest incidence of challenges were squirrel (22), insect pests (18), plant diseases (16), peach leaf curl (15), birds (13), and mosquitos (13). The most common problems reported were very similar in number to the previous year, so POP will continue to educate around these specific challenges as much as possible.

Dedicating more staff time to on-site pest and disease management at a few key partner orchards in 2017 is another pilot program in development. A schedule will be set up with partners to travel to various orchards, apply compost tea and other holistic orchard sprays.

Expanding Orchard and Permaculture Education Efforts

89% of respondents are interested in participating in a Community Orchardist Training Course.  As a result of this enthusiasm, we’ve decided to design and offer a new series called POP CORE (Community Orchardist Resilience Education) for all partners and volunteer orchard liaisons throughout the month of March!

Based on this year’s survey results, POP is establishing a new POPCORE training course for orchard partners and volunteers!

Orchard Demographics

Although challenging to assess, we feel it’s important that POP understands a bit more about the populations that participate in and live around community orchards. To start, we asked about income this year. On average, orchard partners reported that 66% of populations they serve would qualify as low-income. Depending on the partner, these numbers were generated 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.

Organizational Improvement

On a scale from 1 to 10, respondents’ average rating of POP as an overall organization was a 9.1! Almost every single respondent is pleased with their relationship with their volunteer orchard liaison, and overwhelmingly partners believe that POP staff are supportive and easy to reach. 

Looking back on the previous year provides great encouragement for the coming season, and we will continue to use this information to improve our programming and outreach long into the future!

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.

2015 POP Orchard Partner Survey Summary

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In all, 45 of 55 total POP partners (82%) participated in our annual Orchard Partner Survey in November and December 2015.  As a thank you, POP is distributing a requested orchard item, including pruning tools, pole harvesters, produce scales, and neem oil to all participating partners.

ORCHARD VALUE

Once again, the highest percentage of respondents rated “Educational Opportunities” in orchards as having the “highest value” (47.9%). Partners also commonly placed Highest Value and High Value on orchard contributions to “Community Health and Nutrition” and “Environmental Impact” (both 37.5%). While 29% of respondents placed high value on their orchards for food production and distribution, this category also had the highest incidence of “No value” and “low value” selections. Similar to past years, this relatively lower rating for the value of food production and distribution is somewhat distorted by responses from younger and newly planted orchards that have not yet come into full production (a process that can take 5 years). Some older sites are having trouble seeing good yields due to improper harvesting, pests, and diseases; and some small spaces with relatively few trees will obviously be more valued for their educational impact rather than their impact on the food system. However, many of our partner sites with more established sites or larger numbers of plants (Bartram’s, Carousel House, SHARE, Historic Fair Hill, Strawberry Mansion, Mill Creek Farm, Preston’s Paradise, Earthskeepers, Pentridge) rated food production and distribution with high and highest value.

POP's community partners report that they place the highest value on the educational opportunities their orchards provide!
POP’s community partners report that they place the highest value on the educational opportunities their orchards provide!

We also requested stories from our partners illustrating the value of their orchard spaces (link here to read some of the stories).  The most common themes of these responses were the value of educating and exposing people to freshly grown fruit, the reactions that people have to tasting things for the first time, the lessons involved in learning to care for their orchard spaces, and the ways in which children respond to the spaces. More than half of all respondents also took time to write into at least one of their freeform answers how thankful they are for the work that POP does for its partners and their communities.

ORCHARD USAGE

More than 1,800 people participated at least once in orchard care during the 2015 season, and 5,740 people tasted something grown in a POP partner orchard–a 126% increase since 2014. 5,810 people used a POP partner orchard as a gathering space–a 38% increase since 2014. 3,480 people participated in educational programs at orchards, averaging 76 per site (down from 87 in 2015). A 126% increase in the total number of people who have tried an orchard fruit and a 38% increase in the number of people using orchards as gathering spaces in just one season is a very exciting indicator that our greater number of orchard spaces and maturing orchards are reaching more people.

Fair Hill POW 2015
Philadelphia Orchard Week harvest festival at Historic Fair Hill.  Our partners reported that over 5800 people used POP orchards as gathering spaces in 2015.

YIELD DISTRIBUTION

Each of POP’s partners has a different distribution plan which they make clear to us during the application process. In 2015, 29% of orchard yield was harvested for free by community members, 25% was harvested by orchard workers for free distribution to the community, 9% was sold at farmers’ markets, 8% was sold in on-site farmstands, 8% was lost to pests and disease,  8% went unharvested, 3% was added to CSA shares, 3% was turned into value-added products, and 7% was distributed by other means (to emergency food centers, for example.)

ORCHARD PRODUCTION

It is demonstrably difficult to accurately track yield within spaces visited by so many people and where free harvest from community members is encouraged. However, estimates of yield are getting better with each passing season, and POP has taken measures to provide partners with reminders and methods to improve their tracking. Based on survey analysis of tree fruits, peaches, nectarines, apples, Asian pears, plums, sweet cherries, and European pears produced the highest yields, and all tree fruits had significantly higher harvests reported than 2014.  The only decline in reported tree fruit yield was for serviceberries (which could be due to a failure to track yield or the prevalence of rust disease on some trees).

Conversely, most berry and perennial vegetable yields saw a decrease in reported yield from 2014, with the exception of strawberries and grapes. Despite decreases, strawberries, raspberries, asparagus, and blackberries again yielded the best, and jostaberries, hardy kiwis, goumis, and gooseberries yielded least. The best producers have quickly spreading growth habits and few pest pressures, and the lowest producers are slower-growing bushes that often take several years to reach maturity. It is unclear why most berries produced lower yields in 2015, but best guesses are that partners paid less attention to pruning older canes and crowding bushes, causing less overall energy and young wood available for fruit production. “Easy to maintain” could easily slide into “complete neglect” in orchard and urban farm settings where other, more time-intensive plants require greater attention and priority. Greater efforts will be made in 2016 to encourage partners to prune these low-maintenance plants for greatest yield.

Culinary and medicinal herbs were not tracked in prior years, but some of the yields from more popular understory herbs in our orchards that are planted in the food forest style are very exciting. For example, partners who tracked mint harvests reported a total of 127 pounds harvested! One of POP’s largest plans for educational expansion this season include educating partners and the general public about orchard herbs and their uses. We hope this will encourage more harvesting and tracking of these very important plants for ecosystems and human health.

Total reported orchard production from all POP partners was 3,910 pounds, a 67% increase from 2014.

Asian pears at North Philly's Village of Arts & Humanities. Reported yield of all tree fruits increased in 2015.
Asian pears at North Philly’s Village of Arts & Humanities. Reported yield of all tree fruits grew in 2015 and total reported yield increased 67% over 2014.

ORCHARD CHALLENGES

The most common orchard problems reported were almost the same as last year, with the largest increases in reported disease and insect pests and the largest decrease in reported vandalism.  Challenges included squirrels, diseases, insect pests, birds, weeds, theft, and vandalism. Additionally, respondents reported several other challenges including low or no productivity, groundhogs, deer, watering issues, lack of pruning, and not enough people working to maintain an orchard. More specific problems mentioned were apple worms, fruit not ripening, fig dieback, peach leaf curl, oriental fruit moth, brown rot, and fireblight.

ORCHARD SUPPORT

Orchard partners and liaisons are overwhelmingly pleased with the work and support that POP does to assist in orchard care and education. Some of the programmatic work that’s been most appreciated has been pruning help, POP Tips, providing weed guides and basic pruning tools, and organizing larger volunteer groups for workdays.

We asked a series of questions to determine what type of expanded educational programs POP should focus on. If offered, 85% of respondents would participate in a Community Orchardist Training Course and 77% would enroll in a Permaculture Design Certification (PDC) Program if the conditions (dates and costs) were favorable. In addition to short workshops and hands-on trainings at orchard sites, POP will continue to develop longer-term courses, planned to start in late 2016.

POP co-sponsored Philadelphia's first ever full Permaculture Design Course in 2015. Our partners report a high level of interest in expanded educational programs.
POP co-sponsored Philadelphia’s first ever full Permaculture Design Course in 2015. Our partners report a high level of interest in expanded educational programs.

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 properly maintain orchard ecosystems will also. Despite the notion that orchards and perennial ecosystems are slow to produce, the time that passes between planting and plants reaching maximum productivity is far less than the amount of time needed to train an organization, community, and city to adjust their lifestyles to care for the plants in their orchards to reduce loss and harvest maximum yield. As such, much of the work POP does needs to be in attempting to shorten that span of time, requiring not only information about pests and diseases, but conveying the importance of patience, routine, making time for observation, and preventing problems rather than treating problems.

[This is an abbreviated version of the full survey summary. If you have questions or would like a copy of the full summary, please e-mail robyn@phillyorchards.org.]

Orchard Report: Overbrook Environmental Education Center – Summer 2015

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“If knowing was a prerequisite, then we would have never started.” Jerome Shabazz started Overbrook Environmental Education in 1998 by teaching at Overbrook High School. As he saw grades continue to improve, he wanted a way to accommodate continuous student engagement and sought the space at 61st and Lancaster Avenue for hands-on education, and thus birthed the continuously expanding Overbrook Environmental Education Center.
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“It’s a transformational space”, Shabazz said, both literally and figuratively. They first pulled out forty tons of trash from the former EPA Brownfield site, transformed the land, and are now transforming the lives of community members through programming and training. Keyonna, 18, one of OEEC’s six summer WorkReady students from the Philadelphia Youth Network, gave me an enthusiastic tour. “I like this program,” she said. “I didn’t know anything, and now I know a bunch. I go home and tell my mom ‘You should get a rain barrel’, and next year we’re going to have a garden!” OEEC has engaged an additional 6,900 students since 2002.

Continue reading Orchard Report: Overbrook Environmental Education Center – Summer 2015