Orchard Partner Stories: a look back at 2018

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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 2018 celebrating the beauty, abundance, and power of city orchards to serve as an engaging place of discovery and connection.

Community youth harvesting apricots at the Norris Square Neighborhood Project orchard this spring.

Norris Square Neighborhood Project

This spring we had a fruit harvesting day with our Garden Kids program, an informal weekly program for neighborhood children ages 4-12. With berry baskets and a fruit picker donated by POP, 10 youth harvested service berries, mulberries, strawberries and apricots. The young people loved using the fruit picker to try and get the best apricots from the tree. Many of them hadn’t eaten these fruit or picked them fresh before. It was a sweet, lovely day!

— Marian Dalke

Richard Allen Prep Charter School

Students LOVE the fig trees! It is really beautiful to see the joy, empowerment, and team work the fig trees on site bring out in the students. Kids worked together to scout and harvest them, encouraged each other to taste, and spread the word throughout the school that figs were “lit.” Even hesitant tasters became fig advocates to others in the school. Those trees were the first plants they ran to in the garden and in their shade the bonds of community – shared nourishment, flourishing and fun – were reinforced.

Jenny Dunker

Sankofa Community Farm @ Bartram’s Garden

Youth from all over the local neighborhood know of the orchard and we often overhear them saying that they are going to head down later…(after the farmers are gone) to get their apples, pears, etc.  Although we are trying to limit the amount of picking without permission, we like when kids eat fruit from the trees. We have often used these teachable moments to talk about when food is ripe and to think about others when picking to ensure all can taste and try.

— Tyler Holmberg

Students and volunteers planting a spiral herb garden at Cramp Elementary School in North Philly this year.

FNC Learning Farm @ 8th & Poplar

We have three cherry trees that give us a TON of fruit. During the growing season, I have random neighborhood kids who will come after school and help me at the farm, or play in the garden, and those kids come during cherry season and spend afternoons climbing the tree and gorging themselves on fresh cherries. 

— Marta Lynch

One Art

This year we finally got figs! After years of watching and waiting, our patience finally paid off. We are reminded that we plant these trees not knowing if we will taste the harvest but having hope that someone will enjoy their fruits.

— Malaika Gilpin

Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House- Erie

Krishanta, a 10 year old patient from Trinidad, and her mom Kizzie have been staying with us for a long time (over 7 months).  Krishanta uses wheelchairs and other mobility devices but it didn’t stop her from being our garden elf. She loves strawberries and it became her job to harvest the berries for us when needed. And then she took on the raspberries when they came in season.  Soon she was helping volunteer groups with weeding and tending the orchard and garden. She asked if we could plant peppers and more cilantro so we did! In fact, we planted a salsa garden (tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro) in with the herbs. I was lucky enough to spend some time with her in the garden  I would let her smell the different herbs and explain their uses. Together we would harvest the herbs to put in the kitchen for other families and our guest chefs to use.  

-Carolann Costa

Krishanta was one of many this year to appreciate the bounty of orchard plantings at the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House @ Erie.

Wyck Historic House

POP is willing, able and enthusiastic about interfacing with any single segment of Wyck’s constituents–whether corporate volunteer groups during our planting events, or high school job trainees during maintenance events, or behind the scenes with me, essentially empowering me to be informed and knowledgeable enough to train others and truly pay the orchard concept forward. They are a remarkable and generous and truly collaborative organization.

— Martha Keen

Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission Farm

Overcomer Eric from the recovery program is one of the dedicated volunteers for our farm/orchard. We have been able to help him to gain more interest in farming, growing and harvesting fruits. Now he makes sure the farm is doing fine even when we are not there working. His favorite fruit is the figs that he picked himself from our tree.

 Meei Ling Ng

St. Bernard Community Garden

Many gardeners expressed in one way or another that our orchard — particularly our raspberries, which persisted well into fall — enhanced their experience of being in the garden this year: through the joy of having fresh-picked fruit to snack on during work days, or providing a rewarding activity for kids in harvesting fruit during their visits, or simply through enjoying the beauty of our young orchard plants and food forest throughout the season.

 TJ Hunt

The Casa del Carmen orchard in North Philly demonstrated multi-generational involvement this year, including a spring strawberry planting with youth.

Casa del Carmen

Casa del Carmen values our neighbors in Hunting Park and applauds the older adults that volunteer to care for the orchard. One senior in particular, a Puerto Rican Evacuee whose home and garden was washed away during Hurricane Maria, visits daily to ensure the health of the orchard. He says that tending the garden is recreational and keeps him active and healthy.

— Camille Crane

Hunting Park Community Garden

During this past summer we were hosting the Lenfest Center’s summer camp garden club. On their first visit to work in their plot, most seemed excited to be at the garden. Ten minutes into their visit one camper wanted to go back to the center which is a 15 to 20 minute walk out of the park. She was not a fan of the bugs and heat that particular day but we were able to convince her to stay and not make the group leave. We adjusted the order of activities and decided to go first to taste the fruit in the orchard. She was very excited and wanted to take some home to have her grandmother bake a pie. Her next visit there was no hesitation to join in the scavenger hunt with the group.

— Michael Wilcox

Philadelphia Montessori Charter School

Each day our students roam the garden discovering insects, birds, and an occasional fruit. Our orchard is still young and doesn’t produce much yet, but the trees provide shade and for the first time we found Eastern Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars in the garden. We are beginning to develop an ecosystem.

 Letitia C Biddle

Pentridge Children’s Garden

The orchard is generally the highlight of the garden for the children who visit. Whether it is excitement at finding the sweetest apples, or getting lost in the raspberry bushes, the kids love it.

— Owen Taylor

Planting day with volunteers at the Union Baptist Church Garden of Eden in South Philly.

Union Baptist Church Garden of Eden

We planted fruit trees and berry plants with POP this year. Our raspberry plants already have been producing large juicy berries. We have been harvesting the berries to share with our soup kitchen guests, church members, garden volunteers and neighbors. Some of the raspberry plants have grown out of the fence and people walking by pick the fruits. Some are worried about people picking them outside but our answer is “why not, that is the point of sharing and tasting the fruits we have grown”. One time a mother with kids walked by and were admiring the berries from the outside.  We asked them to come in and gave them a tour and shared the berries. If we are near the plants, we will pick the berries and pass them over the fence for people who are curious about the fruits and our orchard. The orchard connected us to our community in many ways. Thank you POP for all you do and for our wonderful collaboration.

— Meei Ling Ng

Penn Alexander

Our orchard provides beauty and educational opportunities for our school community. We love spending time outdoors learning from nature!

— Stephanie Kearney

Overbrook School for the Blind

Our school orchard provides beauty, a space for learning, and a source for nutritious food that is utilized by students and staff alike.  I think POP has been nothing but exceptional in providing sensory based lessons for students with visual impairment and multiple disabilities that incorporate tactual objects and promote student engagement.”

-Lee Stough

POP developed a series of sensory-based lesson plans this year in partnership with the Overbrook School for the Blind.

Weavers Way Farms- Mort Brooks & Henry Got Crops

We had a particularly good paw paw season. There were so many staff, volunteers and customers who had never had one before and were just floored by the taste. This is the second season we have had paw paws to sell at our farm market and people were already contacting up in the spring asking us when they could come and purchase them again this year. I have witnessed first hand the impact this one fruit has had on our immediate community, and it is creating quite the following of excited fans!

— Nina Berryman 

Pastorius Community Garden

This year our trees were still establishing and did not yet give fruit. It was a pleasure taking care of them throughout the season. Our berry bushes were the stars and produced a huge harvest. Our orchard is opened to the public, and the berries went super quick this year as and more people have discovered our little orchard in their neighborhood and feel comfortable harvesting.

— Vita Litvak

Grumblethorpe

The abundant harvest of our cherry trees is a highlight of the year. Youth experience harvesting large amounts, process some into jam, and provide these things to a community that eagerly awaits.

Michael Muehlbauer 

Fairmount Park Horticulture Center Food Forest

This space has been especially valuable to the Master Gardener program for educational and volunteer opportunities.

— Michelle Lawson

A wide range of volunteer groups assisted in caring for the food forest at the Fairmount Park Horticulture Center this year.

Kleinlife Community Center 

In the orchards third year, it appears to have matured in the last season — the space looks a little fuller, not quite producing fruits yet, but the trees are filling in more. Peaches were harvested this year, the persimmon trees look like they’ll resemble the tall bountiful neighborhood persimmon trees, which is exciting to me, because I want our NE neighbors to recognize that just like many of them devote their tiny lawns/yards to growing food vertically or with fruit trees, that we also see the value of using our space for food and fruit production. We are transforming our campus into an edible landscape, and the children are recognizing it and asking questions, which is all I could ask for.

— John Eskate

Jewish Farm School Garden

This year we had a rough season with our fig tree (especially compared to last season). A neighbor of ours stopped by to check in about the state of the fig tree. He shared that when he was growing up on the block, there were a ton of fruit trees lining the street. It was nice to hear how this orchard is a continuation of a history that is still alive for people.

— Nati Passow

Cloud 9 @ Guild House West

Our residents saw a lot of changes this year. But, having the orchard remain has meant a great deal to our long-time residents, especially those whose windows look out over the trees.

— Rania Campbell-Bussiere

Historic Fair Hill

Several neighbors stop by to ask when the figs and cherries will be ripe and if they can help with them. They love to know that these fruits grown in their neighborhood!

— Jean Warrington


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 2013 & Volunteer Highlight: Kevin Stutler

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“The Philadelphia Orchard Project offered me many opportunities to work with a wide range of people to share my passion for teaching and working with plants.  ”
-Kevin Stutler, 2013 Golden Persimmon Volunteer

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

POP’s demonstration food forest at Awbury Arboretum was planted in 2013 and has been host to many workshops, work days and events ever since.
Philadelphia Orchard Project History: 2013
POP had another very busy year of planting in 2013.  New orchards included a demonstration food forest at Awbury Arboretum, also home of POP’s edible plant nursery.  POP partnered with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to create a demonstration food forest orchard at the Fairmount Park Horticulture Center.   Inspired by the plantings and programs at neighboring Woodford, Historic Strawberry Mansion partnered with POP and the East Park Revitalization Alliance on a new orchard at their site.  In October, over 1200 participants celebrated at the 3rd annual Philadephia Orchard Day at POP partner sites across the city.  At the end of 2013, POP piloted its first annual orchard survey to collect data on harvest totals, community participation, and how to best support our community partners going forward.

POP ORCHARDS PLANTED in 2013:  Awbury Arboretum, Fairmount Park Horticulture Center, Historic Strawberry Mansion, FNC Lighthouse, Tulpehocken, Rivera Rec Center
NUMBER OF POP ORCHARD SITES SUPPORTED IN 2013: 43
2013 POP NEWSLETTERS: Summer, Winter
2013 POP ORCHARD SPOTLIGHTS:  Edible Belmont, FNC Teens 4 Good
2013 GOLDEN PERSIMMON VOLUNTEER:  Kevin Stutler
2013 POP BOARD PRESIDENT: Kim Jordan
One day’s berry harvest at the Ogden Orchard! POP conducted its first annual orchard partner survey in 2013 to begin tracking yields, community usage, and other data.

POP VOLUNTEER HIGHLIGHT: Kevin Stutler

In his years volunteering with POP, I often referred to Kevin Stutler as POP’s #1 Volunteer and threatened to make him special t-shirts with puns like ‘BORN TO pRUNe!’.  Kevin rates easily as one of POP’s all time most useful volunteers, despite being on permanent disability and suffering from a chronic disease of the nervous system. He came out to help in any and every way he could, whenever his body would allow for it, often fighting through pain to help pull weeds, prune trees, pot up plants, and much more.  A true hero.

Beyond his heroic physical efforts, Kevin happened to be one of few people on the planet with significant experience in maintaining a large scale temperate permaculture orchard.  Before moving to Philadelphia, he spent 7 years maintaining a diverse, mature food forest orchard planting on 7 acres just outside of Eugene, Oregon.  In addition to teaching me a lot of what I know about orchard care, Kevin led many POP workshops over the years on topics including pruning, vermicomposting, mushroom cultivation, and grape trellis construction. At one of his compost tea workshops, he famously unintentionally drank some of the brew- a good lesson on how not to use it in the garden!

Kevin is also a self-styled ‘Appalachian Engineer’, raised in Southeast Ohio and capable of fixing any mechanical issue with ingenuity and thrift.  He would routinely fix up POP’s tools, wheelbarrows, and other equipment, often coming up with novel improvements in the process.  Kevin’s obsession with the best tools (especially interesting ones of Japanese origin) helped influence POP’s supply over the years.  With the help from a small grant, he designed and built an automated micro-sprinkler irrigation system for POP’s edible plant nursery, simultaneously improving plant health and reducing water use.

Kevin Stutler served on POP’s Orchard Committee and as lead orchard liaison for Awbury Arboretum and the Carousel House from approximately 2013 to 2016.  He moved back to Ohio in 2016 to be closer to his family, but we were thrilled to have him back to celebrate POP’s 10th Anniversary in September 2017.

All star POP volunteer Kevin Stutler leads a workshop on grape trellis construction at Historic Strawberry Mansion.

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 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.