POP History 2015 & Volunteer Highlight: Tony Dorman

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“I get to plant a tree that a child could someday take shade under, play on, breathe easier, and eat fresh fruit because of it?  Sign me up! ”
-Tony Dorman, 2015 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.

2015 planting at the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, POP’s first ever raised bed orchard!
Philadelphia Orchard Project History: 2015
In 2015, POP planted its 1000th fruit tree and supported its 50th city orchard!  POP also co-sponsored the first ever full Permaculture Design Course held in Philadelphia and hosted Dave Jacke (author of Edible Forest Gardens) for a talk and a tour of POP orchards.  Our new POPHarvest program expanded, gleaning and distributing over 4000 lbs of fruit from sites in and around the city.  POP also published our long-awaited urban orchard weed identification guide and hired Tanya Grinblat as our new Development Associate.

POP ORCHARDS PLANTED in 2015:  Lea Elementary, Philadelphia Montessori Charter School, Casa del Carmen, Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, and Tilden Middle School
51 POP ORCHARD SITES SUPPORTED IN 2015
2015 Media Coverage: WHYY Friday Arts Video 
2015 POP NEWSLETTERS: SummerWinter
2015 GOLDEN PERSIMMON VOLUNTEER:  Tony Dorman
2015 POP BOARD PRESIDENT: Brian Olszak

POP co-sponsored Philadelphia’s first ever full Permaculture Design Course in 2015 and Edible Forest Gardens author Dave Jacke participated in a tour of POP sites across North Philadelphia.

POP VOLUNTEER HIGHLIGHT: Tony Dorman

Tony Dorman first volunteered with POP in 2014 and is a dedicated member of POP’s Orchard Committee.  He serves as the lead orchard liaison for Tilden Middle School, Bartram High School, and Philadelphia Montessori Charter School.  Read more about Tony in his previous volunteer highlight post.

My participation with POP began with a desire to help children; thankfully, that has been a theme of sorts during my time with POP.  The first time I volunteered at a POP activity was at Bartram’s Garden (a hidden jewel of Philadelphia; please stop by there when you can) because the activity description said in part, “Come help us clean the garden and plant a fruit tree.”  The plant a tree part got to me. I get to plant a tree that a child could someday take shade under, play on, breathe easier, and eat fresh fruit because of it?  Sign me up!

When I was six or seven years old, there was a popular PSA depicting a Native American looking over a landfill as a single tear rolls down his cheek.  I remember thinking, “When I get older, there’s gonna be trash everywhere!”  POP’s mission is an extremely important one to me. Not only do the orchards transform neglected areas into those of beauty, the orchards create mini ecosystems that help to physically renew the areas that they’re in. Without the orchards, these areas would be that less livable.  POP’s orchards are truly a boon and a blessing.

I was quite happy when Phil asked me to be an orchard liaison to two schools, especially since one was on the same street where I lived; an urban area that is rife with trash and seemingly uncaring neighbors. That school had started to implement programs to improve student life; I think that their acquiring an orchard helped greatly with that process and Tilden Middle School is now a designated Community School with a direct connection the mayor’s office (in fact, Mayor Kinney planted a tree at the school during POP’s last work day there).  I don’t think that volunteering in a classroom would have nearly the impact that planting an orchard has. Watching students interact with the orchard and garden or teach other students garden facts is quite moving and profound.  That gives me hope that one day, “there won’t be trash everywhere” and Philadelphia will be a beautiful, bountiful city for all!

Golden Persimmon Volunteer Tony Dorman helping out at the Philadelphia Montessori Charter School in West Philadelphia.

 

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 2014 & Volunteer Highlight: Ryan Kuck

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“This is the power of community orchards. They inspire, they lift spirits, they demonstrate resiliency, and they bring people together around that greatest of common denominators – food. ”
-Ryan Kuck, 2014 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.

The POPHarvest gleaning program was piloted in 2014, educating city residents about abundant but neglected fruits like juneberries, crabapples, and ginkgo nuts.
Philadelphia Orchard Project History: 2014
POP again expanded our programming in 2014 by bringing on new staff in Robyn Mello as our Education & Outreach Director.  Among other things, Robyn started our POPHarvest gleaning program to pick and distribute fruit that would otherwise go to waste and to educate the public about abundant but neglected fruit in the city.  New planting sites in 2014 included assisting with design and planting of a multi-acre orchard with the Philadelphia Prison System and a demonstration orchard at Penn Park on UPenn’s campus.  Our 4th annual Orchard Day expanded to Philadelphia Orchard Weekend, involving over 1700 participants in harvest festivals and other events at orchards across the city.  POP’s Executive Director Phil Forsyth presented a TEDx talk on the value of urban community orchards.

POP ORCHARDS PLANTED in 2014:  St James United Methodist, Penn Park, Philadelphia Prison Systems, Gorgas Park, Tablespread Farm
NUMBER OF POP ORCHARD SITES SUPPORTED IN 2014: 47
2014 POP NEWSLETTERS: Summer, Winter
2014 POP ORCHARD SPOTLIGHTS: Tertulias @ Norris Square,  Earth’s Keepers Farm at Kingsessing Rec Center
2014 GOLDEN PERSIMMON VOLUNTEER:  Ryan Kuck
2014 POP BOARD PRESIDENT: Brian Olszak
New POP Education & Outreach Director Robyn Mello helping to plant fruit trees at the Philadelphia Prison Systems orchard in 2014.

POP VOLUNTEER HIGHLIGHT: Ryan Kuck

Ryan Kuck volunteered on POP’s Board and Orchard Committee from 2007 through 2011.  He continues to help maintain fruit trees and community orchards in the Belmont neighborhood and currently serves as Executive Director of Greensgrow Farms
I was just in NYC the other weekend visiting the first official permaculture project in a city park. “Really?” I said. “In Philly we’ve been doing this for over 10 years!” In New York there is an ordinance specifically prohibiting foraging from park land. But I’m watching a few dozen families come and go through this rather nondescript pilot project in the Bronx, excitedly finding edible herbs and flowers, showing their friends and children, and carrying their treasures back home. Given the enormous chip Philly has on its shoulder about being a forgotten sibling to New York, it’s nice to see this city so far ahead of the curve on the powers of community-based food forests. NYC’s got nothing on us!
I started volunteering with POP in 2007, having done a few guerilla plantings around the city that couldn’t quite attract enough attention to build a movement. It is remarkable what POP has accomplished over that time, and I brag to anyone that will listen that I have 30 fruit trees growing within 3 blocks of my house. We embarked on an ambitious project to build 10 permanent garden spaces in our neighborhood of Belmont with community partners. We knew we didn’t want to replicate the fragile system of growing on vacant land, but rather sought to build a resilient network that improved community-owned assets through agriculture. We started with annual vegetables but slowly the gardens sprouted fruit trees and perennials. It can be hard to maintain a raised bed, or to convince someone unfamiliar that rainbow chard is worth a try, but everyone knows what a cherry is. We had kids and got busy with life, and most of the gardens found other caretakers. And the fruit trees just keep growing. Even when a group of rowdy kids climb branches a bit too small to reach those highest fruits and snap a limb, those trees keep shooting for the sky and defiantly producing another bushel.
Yesterday a woman walked by our house and in her hand was a persimmon that a neighbor had helped her pick from the nearby Ogden Gardens orchard site. When she saw that our garden also had a tree full of ripening persimmons, she flagged us down and exclaimed: “My son just tasted one of these at a program in his school- I can’t believe they’re growing in our neighborhood!” 

This is the power of community orchards. They inspire, they lift spirits, they demonstrate resiliency, and they bring people together around that greatest of common denominators – food.

Golden Persimmon Volunteer Ryan Kuck with his very young apprentice at Ogden Gardens, one of several POP orchards he helped to plant in his neighborhood.

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.

POP History 2012 & Volunteer Highlight: Danie Greenwell

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“Dollar for dollar, a donation to POP will do a lot. It will most likely be used to plant a fruit tree or bush that will continue to produce high quality food for years to come. ”
-Danie Greenwell, 2012 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.

Cider pressing at the 2nd annual Philadelphia Orchard Day at Woodford.
Philadelphia Orchard Project History: 2012
In 2012, POP planted our 500th fruit tree and our 1000th berry bush in Philadelphia and involved over five hundred volunteers from across the city in planting and caring for community orchards.  We celebrated our second annual Philadelphia Orchard Day with harvest festivals, cider-pressing, pumpkin-painting, and lots of fresh fruit at POP partner sites in neighborhoods across the city. POP also hosted author and orchard all-star Michael Phillips for an intensive Holistic Orchard Training.  Orchard Director Phil Forsyth was promoted to Executive Director.

POP ORCHARDS PLANTED in 2012:  Overbrook Environmental Education Center, Carousel House Farm, Hunting Park Community Garden, Urban Sustainability Leadership Academy
NUMBER OF POP ORCHARD SITES SUPPORTED IN 2012: 39
POP NEWSLETTERS: Summer 2012Winter 2012
2012 GOLDEN PERSIMMON VOLUNTEER:  Danie Greenwell
2012 POP BOARD PRESIDENT: Kim Jordan
POP helped plant a community orchard in North Philly’s Hunting Park in 2012 in a partnership with Hunting Park United, the Fairmount Conservancy, and Philadelphia Parks & Rec with additional support from the Junior League of Philadelphia.

POP VOLUNTEER HIGHLIGHT: Danie Greenwell

Danie Greenwell was one of POP’s founding board members and has continued to serve as the organization’s volunteer bookkeeper and an invaluable adviser since leaving the board in 2011.

Like many good things, POP was formed around a dining room table – specifically Liz Mednick’s. Over weeks and months in 2007 and 2008, a few of us sat around that table and tried to figure out what it was we wanted, how we would set ourselves apart from other greening organizations, and how we would get funding.

While I come from a family of farmers and ag experts, planting is not my strength. Instead, I prefer the behind-the-scenes organizing that it takes to put an organization together. While ideas are great, it’s the follow-through that translates an idea into action. At the time POP was forming, I was heavily involved in an organization that trained young people to be nonprofit board members. Area experts came into talk about budgets, fundraising, volunteer coordination, legal responsibility, and strategic planning. I did my best to train other board members on these areas and then set up the accounting policies and created a budget. We recruited experts like Domenic Vitiello, Michael Nairn, and Anne Taylor to sit on the board of directors. We called the IRS dozens of time to try to move our 501c3 application along. We created electronic organization for financial records, marketing materials, and contact lists.

As anyone who has started a nonprofit knows, there is a steep learning curve at times. Board members over-commit and then cannot deliver; donor letters get forgotten; insurance gets dropped because the post office box was not working properly. But we had patient supporters who would spend their time fixing the problems and creating better systems. Generous donors would remind us to send them a letter for tax purposes and then send in another donation, just because.

I hosted a house party for POP because to this day, I still think it is the best way to get people invested in the organization. I invited a LOT of people to my very small apartment and served them as many foods with locally-grown ingredients as I could. Board members lugged in cases of beer. Phil spoke about POP’s work. I was blown away by the generosity of friends. Most were grad students and nonprofit workers and yet we raised $1700 in one evening.

Currently, I serve as the volunteer controller for the organization. I make sure that donations get into the bank and then are used to plant orchards. As a person who spends hours poring over nonprofit financial statements and 990s, I can assure that POP is in a good place. Our spending is “lean” and we have very little overhead. Dollar for dollar, a donation to POP will do a lot. It will most likely be used to plant a fruit tree or bush that will continue to produce high quality food for years to come. I am very happy to still be part of this wonderful organization a decade later!

Proof is in the planting! Golden Persimmon volunteer Danie Greenwell helps in the dirt as well as watching POP’s books.

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 2010 & Volunteer Spotlight: Brian Olszak

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“One of the great things about POP is that everyone is welcomed and accepted, at all skill levels and abilities.”
-Brian Olszak, 2010 POP 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 planted 5 new community orchards in 2010, including one at Pepper Middle School in partnership with the Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative.
Philadelphia Orchard Project History: 2010
At long last, POP received its official 501c3 status in 2010, making us an independent non-profit able to receive grants and funds on our own.  We continued our core work of planting new community orchards, adding 5 new sites across the city as well as significant expansions at Woodford and SHARE.  In 2010, POP also widened our program to support additional city orchards sites not originally planted by us, including Mill Creek Farm, Grumblethorpe, and University City High School.

POP ORCHARDS PLANTED in 2010:  Village of Arts & Humanities, Walnut Hill Farm, Preston’s Paradise, Pentridge Children’s Garden, Pepper Middle School
NUMBER OF POP ORCHARDS SUPPORTED IN 2010: 23
2010 MEDIA COVERAGE: ‘Deliciously Fresh Produce in Philadelphia’, NBC News
2010 GOLDEN PERSIMMON VOLUNTEER:  Brian Olszak
2010 POP BOARD PRESIDENT: Michael Nairn
POP received our 501c3 non-profit status in 2010 and promptly garnered $15,000 in support from a national competition sponsored by Greenworks.

POP VOLUNTEER HIGHLIGHT: Brian Olszak

In March of 2010 I was working in a private school library, looking forward to any students who might swing by and need assistance—unfortunately they were few and far between. I soon realized that having the four walls of a library be your entire world may not have been the right path for me. In my desire to find and try out some new and interesting things, I stumbled across POP’s website and fell in love with their mission of planting community orchards in the city.

One of the great things about POP is that everyone is welcomed and accepted, at all skill levels and abilities. To volunteer with POP there are no tests, no applications to fill out—just show up at a planting, pick up a shovel (or bring your own), and literally just dig in! Of course, you may need to find out where to dig in, what you’re planting and why, as I certainly did, but Orchard Director Phil Forsyth and the more-experienced volunteers were more than willing to show the ropes. If you kept showing up at more and more plantings like I did, you learned quickly. After volunteering at multiple orchard plantings in 2010 including the Village of Arts, SHARE Food Program, and Woodford, Phil asked me to be on the Orchard Committee and I jumped at the chance to do more. I then joined POP’s Board of Directors in 2011, later serving as Secretary, President, and lastly Treasurer before I “retired” from the Board at the end of 2016.

POP was the first nonprofit that I’d ever become involved with outside my day job. Personally, I didn’t think I had an obvious role to fill with POP: I was no horticulturalist or orchardist by any means, and I’d had no experience with fundraising, event planning, or nonprofit management. I just loved the work, and I’d try anything once (including leading the writing of POP’s first Strategic Plan—but not without a how-to manual to help!). What I may have lacked in initial knowledge or skill-set I learned through doing, but I’ve gained so much more through my experiences with POP. There are many partners and individuals throughout Philadelphia’s neighborhoods who make POP’s work a success, and knowing many of them continues to inspire me. It’s a humbling experience to see how community organizations and neighborhoods value and rally around an orchard that they own outright, a permanent fixture which bears many benefits beyond the fruit.

Even today I still can’t believe how far POP has come—and in so little time! When I first started volunteering, we only had a part-time Orchard Director (Phil), and now there’s a full-time Executive Director in Phil and three part-time employees. I’m so honored that I could be a small part of the great work POP has done over the last 10 years. Hope to see you at one of those orchards soon!

POP’s flagship orchard at Woodford Mansion in East Fairmount Park expanded outside the fence in 2010, with new plantings of nut trees and native fruit trees.

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 2009 & Volunteer Highlight: Jerry Silberman

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“Community orchards resonated with me because of all the things that trees can provide that vegetables gardens alone can’t – shade for one, but more importantly, a visible symbol of permanence and continuity.”  -Jerry Silberman, 2009 POP 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.

We will be celebrating our 9th annual East Park Strawberry Harvest Festival on June 10th, 2017, a treasured community event first held in 2009!
Philadelphia Orchard Project History: 2009
POP organized our first ever Strawberry Festival in spring and Apple Festival in fall 2009 in collaboration with our community partners the East Park Revitalization Alliance and Woodford Mansion; these engaging community events have continued ever since!  POP’s core work also continued with 5 new community orchards planted in 2009 and the development of a more formal application procedure to vet new community orchard partners.  One of the more exciting projects was partnering with the SHARE Food Program in planting an orchard at their headquarters, now part of a multi-faceted urban farm program educating emergency food recipients about growing and eating a wide variety of fresh produce.  We also planted fruit trees at Greenfield Elementary as part of an innovative, collaborative project in which Philadelphia Water depaved large sections of the schoolyard to create a series of garden spaces.

POP ORCHARDS PLANTED in 2009: SHARE Food Program, Greenfield Elementary, Evelyn Sanders, Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School, Roxborough Presbyterian Church
2009 MEDIA COVERAGE: ‘Power Plants‘, GRID magazine.
2009 GOLDEN PERSIMMON VOLUNTEER:  Jerry Silberman
2009 POP BOARD PRESIDENT: Domenic Vitiello
POP is proud to have planted fruit trees as part of the schoolyard transformation project known as Greening Greenfield, completed in 2009.

POP VOLUNTEER HIGHLIGHT: JERRY SILBERMAN

I don’t remember how I heard about POP, but I was there for the very first planting at the South Philly Teen Orchard and I was hooked. Community orchards resonated with me because of all the things that trees can provide that vegetables gardens alone can’t – shade for one, but more importantly, a visible symbol of permanence and continuity. The vision of POP that the orchards would be community property also speaks to permanence and continuity.  What’s more, I have to confess, most of my favorite foods grow on trees.

After its planting, I served as POP’s Orchard Liaison, or lead volunteer, for the South Philly Teen Orchard for more than five years.  The growth of the Teen Orchard was not a linear, unbroken success. The neighborhood had its share of problems, a polyglot community with new immigrants from many countries, much poverty and the stress that go with it. For a while, a drug house across the street regularly vandalized the orchard.

But for many neighborhood children and teens over the years, it was an exciting project, and a way to share different cultures. Some youth connected some of the plantings with  foods and products in their mother’s kitchens, and many, city born and bred, had their first close up appreciation of plants, bugs, and soil – and the amazement of eating something straight off the bush. In volunteering with POP at the Teen Orchard for many years I enjoyed, and learned from, the company of the young people.  And of course I learned how to care for our plants, and how to pass that learning along.

The growth and development of this orchard helped POP learn and evolve a model of community partnership now applied in neighborhoods across the city. POP’s Orchard Committee meetings spent a lot of time working through how to lead new partner groups through a process that would result long-term success in creating and caring for their community orchard spaces.

A few years ago I organized a bicycle tour as part of Philadelphia Orchard Day, something I hope can happen again. But it would now take several days to see all the sites/sights POP has to offer.

Planted in 2009, the orchard at the SHARE Food Program has since outlasted the neighboring Tastycake factory!

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate

POP Partner Feature: Casa Del Carmen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This POP Partner Feature written by Education Director Alyssa Schimmel.

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate.  

POP Partner Feature: PhillyEarth @ Village of Arts & Humanities

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Newly sheetmulched PhillyEarth Food Forest in spring 2016.

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

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

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

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

Robyn spending some time with the current PhillyEarth cohort

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

Asian pears at the PhillyEarth Orchard!

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

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

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

One of the pallet benches and hubcap flowers in front of PhillyEarth’s living willow fence
This Orchard Update written by POP Orchard Director Robyn Mello.
SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate.  

POP History 2007 & Founding Manifesto

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In honor of the Philadelphia Orchard Project’s 10th anniversary in 2017, we’ll be looking back at a different year in our history every month, starting with POP’s founding in 2007.  We’ll also designate Golden Persimmon Awards for each year in recognition of the extraordinary efforts of our volunteers.
POP founder Paul Glover at the site of POP’s first orchard planting in South Philly in 2007.  Photo: Laura Pedrick for the The New York Times. 
Philadelphia Orchard Project History: 2007
The Philadelphia Orchard Project was founded in 2007 by alternative economic development pioneer Paul Glover, with a vision to transform the city of Philadelphia into the Next Great Orchard (see Glover’s founding POP manifesto below).  The first meeting of the Philly Orchards Project, as it was originally named, was held at Glover’s residence on January 26, 2007.  This potluck meeting was attended by 7 individuals, including Phil Forsyth, who later became POP’s first staff member and current Executive Director.  Glover inspired Forsyth and scores of other volunteers to help make his vision happen, including a dozen individuals to volunteer as POP’s founding Board of Directors.  Liz Mednick was also key as POP’s founding legal adviser, helping create POP’s bylaws and incorporating the organization as a Pennsylvania non-profit.

POP ORCHARDS PLANTED in 2007:  United Communities (later known as the South Philly Teen Orchard), Grupo Motivos (later known as the Tertulias Orchard), and Cambria Orchard
2007 MEDIA COVERAGE: Replacing Neglect with Peach Trees, NY Times
2007 GOLDEN PERSIMMON VOLUNTEERS:  Paul Glover & Liz Mednick
2007 POP BOARD PRESIDENT: Domenic Vitiello
Norris Square planting
Iris and Tomacita, founders of Grupo Motivos, at the POP orchard planting in Norris Square in fall 2007. The orchard is now known as Tertulias and new orchard plantings are expected at other garden lots in the Norris Square neighborhood in 2017.
PHILLY: THE NEXT GREAT ORCHARD

by Paul Glover, 2007

Philadelphia will become the “next great city” by rebuilding itself as a refuge from expensive oil and gas.

Peak Oil, global warming, de-industrialization, the rise of China and Europe, the declining dollar, population growth and limits to U.S. military power are combining to end cheap fuel, cheap food, cheap homes, cheap consumer goods and cheap land. Everything will soon change.

Most American cities have paved themselves into a corner. To survive, they bring food and fuel from great distances. They are like armies camped far from their sources of supply.  All will transform, or fade.

Philadelphia, in the midst of this storm, has an advantage no other American metropolis has– 40,000 vacant lots and empty buildings. Since 1955, hundreds of thousands of solid industrial jobs have been stolen from Philadelphia workers. When these jobs shipped away to Asia and Latin America, many Philly neighborhoods were destroyed.

Today these huge derelict areas allow us to create a future that works.  They are a blank canvas for painting a city that will be stronger, more beautiful, more abundant and fair than any in our hemisphere. Big Money says fill these vacancies with cash machines: condos, casinos and headquarters that pay major taxes– don’t pay attention to approaching storms. Yet if we did so, Philly would become instead the “next failed city.” Smart Money says something different.  There are billions of dollars to be made by becoming the first American metropolis to grow most of its own food.

Thousands of acres of urban orchards here will multiply their harvest value, by creating many categories of related jobs and thus reducing the costs of crimefighting, jail building and incarceration.

Getting neighbors outdoors working together makes neighborhoods safer. Giving kids valuable farm skills builds career confidence and pride. Happier kids resist drugs. Trees provide cleaner air, better nutrition and better exercise, which means less public cost for healing sickness. Their shade reduces costs to heat and cool homes. Tourists will come here to enjoy the scene, and learn how we did it.

Amid these orchards we can construct clusters of supremely energy-efficient earth-sheltered housing, needing one tenth the fossil fuels to warm and cool them. Ecological colonies (ecolonies) grow food on roofs, recycle rainwater and greywater. These neighborhoods would be linked by light rail and bikepaths. Some streets can be reclaimed for gardens and play.  Property values would rise and neighborhood businesses bloom.

All of the above notions are proven practical elsewhere. We need merely to welcome them here, setting the nation’s pace for greatness. Our challenge is to make these likely by proper zoning and tax incentives, buying and planting land.

The Philly Orchard Project (POP) organizes the skills and capital to make this happen. You’re welcome to join us at our potluck meetings, to donate land and money for trees, to connect us to people with orchard skills, and to neighbors willing to help.
Solid Rock Paul
POP’s founder, Paul Glover (center), continues to lend a hand at POP events in addition to leading a wide variety of other innovative efforts to rebuild Philadelphia as a vital, just, and green city for all.

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’s 10th Anniversary!

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All this year we will be celebrating the Philadelphia Orchard Project’s 10th anniversary!  Each month we’ll look back at a different year in our history and recognize the efforts of some of our extraordinary volunteers.  Stay tuned for announcements about a series of events to celebrate our big milestone!

POP's very first orchard planting with the Youth Leadership Council of the United Communities of Southeast Philadelphia in spring 2007.
POP’s very first orchard planting with the Youth Leadership Council of the United Communities of Southeast Philadelphia in spring 2007.

Ten years ago today I attended the first POP potluck meeting at founder Paul Glover’s home, held on January 26, 2007.  I was inspired by Paul’s vision of a Philadelphia Orchard Project that would plant vacant lots and other city spaces with fruit trees to feed hungry Philadelphians.  In looking back on this important anniversary, I take pride on the progress we’ve made in working towards this original vision and in transitioning it to a fully realized organization.  In our first ten years, POP has planted almost 1,100 fruit trees and currently supports a total of 56 community orchards in the city, primarily in low-wealth neighborhoods lacking access to fresh fruit.

It has been amazing to be a part of the growth of POP from a vision, to a start up lead by volunteer efforts, to an organization with the capacity and capability of actual staff.  This year POP staff Phil, Robyn, and Tanya were joined by two paid intern positions and our first ever Orchard Apprentice, Alkebu-lan Marcus.  The expansion of POP’s staff, through the generous support of foundations and individuals, has allowed us to continue to expand our impact.

We are proud to have planted 5 new community orchards and involved 1,330 volunteers and 3,382 total participants in planting, caring for, and celebrating community orchards in 2016. POP staff expanded our educational offerings, including workshops on organic pest management, mushroom cultivation, and a 4 part urban ecosystem design course. Our POPHarvest gleaning program harvested over 5,000 pounds of produce donated to volunteers and local food cupboards. We celebrated our first ever Juneberry Joy week in the spring and our 6th annual Philadelphia Orchard Week in October with harvest festivals and other events at orchard sites across the city.  Our partners reported to us that 2,200 individuals participated in orchard care and over 4,600 tasted something grown in a POP orchard last year.

Volunteers planting at POP's newest orchard, Monumental Baptist Church, in fall 2017.
Volunteers planting at POP’s newest orchard, Monumental Baptist Church in fall 2016.

2017 is going to be another pivotal year for POP’s growth!  We have just hired a new part-time Education Director, Alyssa Schimmel, who among other things will be working directly with our 10 school orchard partners in the city and will be developing a series of orchard-based lesson plans.  We also have big plans for a new urban orchardist certification program to help train our orchard partners and volunteers.  What’s more, in February 2017, we expect to move into POP’s first ever office space at The Woodlands in West Philadelphia!

We are proud of the impact of our community orchards in bringing beauty and bounty to neighborhoods and helping to build a new culture of fresh food in the city.  I am personally grateful for the efforts of all our staff, partners, volunteers, and supporters and look forward to seeing Philadelphia continue to grow as a city of fruit for all!

-Phil Forsyth, Executive Director

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.