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!

Community

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.

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.

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

 

KleinLife 

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.

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.