Thursday, December 4, 2014

Community Orchard Planting

~ Rebecca B. Frimmer

On a beautiful November sunny day with a brisk autumn breeze, I had the opportunity to volunteer with Philadelphia Orchard Project to plant the beginnings of an urban food forest in Gorgas Park, in Roxborough.  The orchard was going to be a joint community urban farming effort between Philadelphia Orchard Project (POP) and Roxborough’s Northlight Community Center, and Teens 4 Good.  The Gorgas Park property borders the fence of Roxborough High School, and the gate to the orchard is right next to the school, with hopes that the biology classes will get involved.  Penn State Extension Master Gardeners have taken on the role of helping to maintain some of these new urban orchards in their neighborhood parks.


Last year, the Extension Philadelphia Master Gardener class hosted Phil Forsyth, the Executive Director of Philadelphia Orchard Project, to teach about fruit trees, and ask for Master Gardener trainees to come volunteer at their plantings or even be a liaison for a new orchard.  Liasions for POP take on a volunteer role to help organize orchard maintenance and volunteer days, keeping on top of communications between the community organization's host site and POP.  POP has planted over 35 orchards – almost 700 fruit trees, not to mention thousands of shrubs, vines and perennials.  From persimmons to hazelnuts, POP isn’t shy about planting interesting and delicious fruit and nut varieties that are not widely commercially produced in our region. It is really exciting to introduce people to elderberries and kiwi berries while also seeing their delight in delicious favorites like apples and raspberries. 

Many of the Master Gardener trainees participated in the orchard planting behind the horticulture center in Fairmount Park last year. That Food Forest will be maintained by the Master Gardeners along with their Edible and Pollinator Demonstration gardens nearby. 

For more information:
Food Forest Horticulture Center     Food Forest Horticulture Center Part 2            

It all came full circle last Saturday at the orchard planting.  At the outset, all three community organizations shared their missions with us, followed by a tree planting demonstration, and then the planting itself.  The morning culminated in a group of a dozen happy volunteers proud of their plantings, sharing soft pretzels and local apples, looking forward to seeing the next phase of the food forest in the spring.  At that time, POP will come back and plant the understory of herbs and perennials to truly make this orchard site into a food forest.   

The Orchard Planting:

Philadelphia Orchard Project’s Executive Director Phil kicks off the day by offering a tree planting lesson.  We dug wide holes 2-3 times the width of each plant pot, and matched the depth to the current planting depth of the plant in its pot.  The orchard site and volunteers are watching the lesson here:

As you can see here, Phil is removing some of the topsoil because the tree is planted too deep.  He’s pulling the topsoil back to just above where the main root branches horizontally. Sometimes nurseries can even plant too deeply, when planting a tree its important that the depth is right, many novices have a tendency to plant just a little too deep for optimal results.

Once we were finished planting all of the fruit trees inside the gate, and berry bushes around the perimeter, we spread mulch around all of the fresh plantings, with a well to hold some water.  Here, Corrie Spellman, Teens 4 Good farmer who will be managing the site, gets ready to spread some mulch.  The volunteers also helped water in these new trees.


The orchard included Asian Pears, Currants, Raspberries, Blueberries, Sweet Cherries and Sweet Goumi. I’ve never had a Goumi berry before, but supposedly they are a sweet and sour red berry that is very high in Vitamin A & E and has the highest lycopene content of any food – even more than tomatoes!  I am looking forward to sampling some Goumi in the spring.

A Little More About The Orchard Hosts:

Philadelphia Orchard Project: The Philadelphia Orchard Project plants orchards in the city of Philadelphia that grow healthy food, green spaces and community food security. POP works with community-based groups and volunteers to plan and plant orchards filled with useful and edible plants.

Teens4Good: Teens 4 Good, a program of the Federation of Neighborhood Centers, is a youth-led entrepreneurial farm and nutrition business that transforms vacant lots into urban farms, improving access to healthy food for communities, creating meaningful jobs for at-risk youth and empowering youth to become healthy responsible stewards and leaders who give back to their communities.

Northlight Community Center: Their mission is to enable people of all ages and abilities in our communities, especially those most in need, to reach their full potential as productive and responsible citizens through initiatives that support and enrich children, teens, and families.

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