#17 Urban Orchards

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Increasing the urban tree canopy can directly help offset carbon dioxide emissions entering the atmosphere, decrease storm water runoff, increase shade and reduce the urban heat island effect, provide habitat and improve local air quality.  Though typically the species planted to increase the forest canopy are not edibles, fruit trees offer many of the same benefit as other species, while also providing produce and opportunity for urban enterprise.  Fruit trees are adaptable and can be grown in sloping and space-constrained areas. Though tree crops require annual pruning, fertilizing, and harvesting, they tend to be much easier to care for than vegetables and are perennial, so just one tree could provide hundreds of pounds of fruit for many years. With this amount of produce, there is ample opportunity for addressing issues of food scarcity, creating job opportunities and urban farm business potential.  In contrast to vegetables, trees may also provide a crucial buffer between eaters and the kinds of toxic compounds that exist in urban soils.

Urban Orchard Example Organization/Projects

Urban Orchard Project, a non-profit in the United Kingdom is creating lush cities swathed in fruit and nut trees. They work in partnership with communities to plant, manage, restore and harvest orchards in urban areas to help people rediscover the pleasure of eating home-grown fruit.  https://www.theorchardproject.org.uk/
In Boston, there are about forty urban orchards located on the grounds of historical houses, farms, public lands and in community gardens, schoolyards or wild areas. Each orchard is mapped and can be read about in more detail by visiting, www.bostonnatural.org/urban-orchards.htm.
The Vancouver Fruit Tree Project harvests extra fruit from backyard fruit trees and redistribute it to community groups, https://vancouverfruittree.com/
The San Francisco Urban Orchard Project assists with planting and maintenance of publicly accessible fruit trees. The program has planted fruit trees in several locations throughout San Francisco, including food insecure areas and an orchard within Golden Gate Park,
FruiTreesNY, part of the TreesNY program, is planting urban orchards across the Five NYC Boroughs. TreesNY also offers workshops on pruning and maintaining trees, https://treesny.org/community-tree-plantings/fruitrees-new-york/

Tree Fruit Species

General fruit tree guides can be applicable when choosing fruit tree species to plant in the city.  One such guide from Cornell University can be found here: http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/fruit/homefruit/homefruit.pdf.
Other considerations:

  • Choose dwarf varieties because urban soils tend to be compacted and growing space may be limited. Dwarf varieties are also much easier to harvest from overtime since they do not grow as tall as regular varieties.
  • Choose fruit that people like and are familiar with, especially if urban food production is a new concept in your community. In time, you may be able to plant less common fruits.
  • Consider more than just trees: brambles (such as raspberries and blackberries) and beach plums (Prunus maritime), a deciduous shrub, are excellent options for the urban environment.

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Tara Hammonds

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