Thursday, November 7, 2013

Food Forest in Fairmount Park Part 2

Michele K. Koskinen

In a previous blog  I reported on the orchard that was planted at the Horticulture Center in Fairmount Park. This collaboration between the Department of Parks and Recreation, The Philadelphia Orchard Project and the Penn State Philadelphia Master Gardeners is an opportunity for the community to see growing a Food Forest in an urban environment. With thousands of visitors every year it is likely that people who have no knowledge of Food Forest will learn of the importance of these orchards in the overall sustainability of our forest and creating a food source for our communities.

Phil Forsyth of the Orchard Project writes: 

"Imagine a Philadelphia where every community regardless of location or wealth has access to fresh, healthy fruit grown right in the neighborhood. The Philadelphia Orchard Project (POP) is working with partner groups across the city to transform neglected urban spaces into vibrant community orchards full of edible and useful plants. We welcome your help in remaking our city as a green and bountiful paradise for all."

Joan S. Blaustein, Director
Urban Forestry and Ecosystem Management Division, 
Philadelphia Parks & Recreation states:

"One of the first pilot projects to be implemented is the Agroforestry Edges, which by creating food forests,will enhance and expand edge conditions along forested areas to enhanced tree cover along wooded edges that promote woodland function, while supporting productive landscapes (nut or fruit harvest), community engagement and awareness. We selected the location at the Horticultural Center for a number of reasons:  it is a highly visible location where we can educate the public about permaculture and food forests, we have the active participation of the Penn State Master Gardeners 
who will maintain the forest, and easy access. " 

For more information on the Parkland Framework in Philadelphia  Parkland Forest Management
or to see her entire background piece go to  Previous blog


The plan for this site is to be completed over three planting events. The first event saw the orchard planted in October. In the spring the area will be sheetmulched around the trees and a wide variety of berry bushes will be planted.  In fall 2014, perennials and groundcovers will be added to complete the planting.  For more info about the food forest concept, see the Urban Eco-Orchards summary sheet below. 

As with all of POP's plantings, the goal is to educate and expand access to healthy food in communities throughout the city.  The plant list was chosen to demonstrate a wide range of fruit that can be grown in Philadelphia. Perennials and groundcovers were also chosen for ecological value in attracting beneficial insects and building soil quality, as well as food, medicine, and beauty.

So come out and see the addition to the Demonstration Gardens at the Horticulture Center. 
Directions to Horticulture Center

For additional information on POP or to volunteer visit their website at

The Philadelphia Orchard Project is a non-profit that plants orchards in the city of Philadelphia that grow healthy food, green spaces, and community food security. 
POP plants fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, and useful and edible perennials in partnership with community groups across the city.  Since 2007, we’ve planted 34 orchards with a wide variety of partners including schools, churches, and community gardens.  POP provides orchard design assistance, plant materials, training, and long-term support in orchard care.  Our community partners maintain and harvest the orchards and distribute the produce within their community.  Together, we are building a permanent infrastructure for food-growing in the city and expanding the local food movement to neighborhoods that have thus far been excluded. 


The Urban Eco-Orchards planted by the Philadelphia Orchard Project are examples of a style of planting called Edible Forest Gardening. The basic idea is to create a functioning, diverse ecology in the orchard that mimics that of a natural forest. By working with nature instead of against it, these orchards are healthy and productive with relatively less main- tenance required by their stewards. The concept of edible forest gardens developed in Permaculture, a movement of sus- tainable design that originated in Australia in the 1970’s. However, many native cultures across the world have tradi- tionally grown food in a similar manner.
The Urban Eco-Orchard consists of far more than rows of fruit trees. Like a natural forest, many layers of plants grow in an Edible Forest Garden.
Seven different levels have been identified:
By planting a multi-layered orchard, positive relationships are created between plants (see multiple functions, below). All ecological niches are occupied, so there is less opportunity for weeds to invade. With yields from so many layers, overall production is increased. Yields can also be harvested from other layers in the short term before fruit and nut trees mature.
In addition to a diversity in plant levels, the Urban Eco-Orchard features a diversity of plant choices within each level. For example, instead of just planting apples in the low tree level, the orchard might feature apples, pears, cherries, and more unusual choices like figs, persimmons, and serviceberries. If one crop fails in a particular year, this diversity en- sures that the orchard will still be productive. Pests are also often very plant specific, so a diverse orchard becomes a less attractive target.

Urban Eco-Orchard plants often serve more than one of the following functions:

FOOD: Fruit, nuts, culinary herbs, greens, mushrooms, edible flowers, roots, and shoots. Di- versity of production makes for a long season of harvest. Don’t forget value-added items like jam, juice, and cider!

MEDICINE: Herbs, barks, mushrooms, etc. For teas, tinctures, extracts, and poultices. SOIL-

BUILDING: Through a relationship with soil bacteria, certain plants (mostly in the legume family), actually pull nitrogen from the air and fix it into the ground, thus fertilizing themselves and the plants around them. Other plants are nutrient-accumulators with roots that pull essen- tial nutrients from deep in the soil and make them available to the plants around them. Fungi have recently been shown to have vital ecological functions in soil, protecting plants from dis- ease, transporting nutrients, and more.

PEST CONTROL: Some flowering plants, especially those from the umbel and aster family, serve as a nectary, attracting beneficial insects that help control potential pest problems.
Other plants make good habitat for beneficials to live and lay their eggs. Other strong aromatic plants, including many herbs an onion relatives, are good at confusing and repelling pests. OTHER: Woody plants can be harvested or coppiced for fuel and some yield valuable timber for construction or furniture-making. Trees and other orchard plants provide many environ- mental benefits, including absorbing carbon and other pollution, reducing stormwater runoff, and providing neighborhood cooling. Beauty in flowers, foliage, and fruit is another important function of Eco-Orchard plants.

One of the most important aspects of creating a functioning orchard ecology is creating healthy, living soil. Worms, insects, fungi, bacteria, and many micro-organisms have vital roles in supporting happy, productive plants. There is actually a greater total mass of life below the surface than what is seen above. One technique for encouraging healthy, living soil is sheet- mulching, a particularly valuable approach for city lots with poor, weed-covered soil. The basic idea is to cover the surface with a layer of cardboard or newspaper topped with many layers of organic materials like fallen leaves, compost, and salt hay. The newspaper or cardboard serve to choke out existing weeds or grass, then decompose along with the other organic materials to provide abundant food and habitat for worms and other soil life.

Recommended Forest Garden Books
Creating a Forest Garden, Martin Crawford
Edible Forest Gardens, Dave Jacke & Eric Toensmeier Gaia’s Garden, Toby Hemenway

Recommended Orchard Books
The Holistic Orchard, Michael Phillips
Growing Fruit Naturally, Lee Reich
The Pruning Book, Lee Reich
The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect & Disease Control, Ellis & Bradley The Backyard Orchardist, Stella Otto

The Backyard Berry Book, Stella Otto

Recommended Eco-Orchard Plant Sources (Philadelphia & Mail Order)                                                                 

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