We install and maintain community orchards by integrating fruit and nut trees into the public landscape. We work extensively with heirloom varieties and currently maintain nearly 300 cultivars at dozens of sites.
I’ve been working on community orchards for seven years; this is my third year running a nursery to supply them.
Goals: The primary goal of this project is to bring food security, at a local level, through the establishment of community orchards. Also, we run trials on non-commercial fruit varieties in community orchard settings.
I start with root stock I buy; I don’t grow my own root stock because I can’t produce the quality for the price of buying it. In late Winter, I collect scions from trees I like. Also, I order scions from the USDA Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN) program, which has a great collection of plant genetics to distribute. Early Spring, I start grafting. I wait as long as I can because I don’t have cold storage (one year I lost everything to mold). [Editor’s Note: For more information on the GRIN program, see: http://www.ars-grin.gov/]
Once grafting is completed, I wait until I think the threat of a hard freeze has passed, although apples and pears seem able to take a hard freeze. I start potting; I grow in pots rather than in the ground so I can have a longer planting season. I mix my own potting soil using river silt, sand, Promix, and old horse manure. This mix is not industry standard, but I am happy with the results. I apply chemicals only as needed, which is minimal. A 10-foot fence keeps deer out and provides a good perch for the bluebirds, which is excellent pest control. I keep everything watered and remove all growth below the graft union until I start planting in mid-September.
Primarily, planting sites are public spaces. We found planting at festivals to be very successful; we set up a booth and encouraged people to plant a tree right there. This way, we have time to educate people about trees as well as get them involved directly. I also worked extensively with the East End Veterans’ Memorial Garden in Cincinnati, Ohio, where we have turned many city lots into gardens and orchards.
We also sent coupons to local K-2 school kids and planted trees in their yard if they sent them back. This took way too much time and gas. Most people will not even thank us and I suspect most of the trees will be killed. We averaged about $3 per tree in donations for this project.
To plant trees, we remove sod in a 4-foot circle, plant the tree, use cardboard as sheet mulch, apply fresh woodchips, then stake a cage of 4-foot-high 2X4 welded fence. The fence is expensive, but it keeps away deer and lawn implements. The fence is left on until trees grow above the browse line of deer and are then replaced with drain tile to protect them from weed whackers.
I try to prune trees with an emphasis on good structure, and not fruit production. Also, I provide no soil amendment beyond mulch. It has been my experience that this minimal care produces tough, long-lived, and low-maintenance trees.
• Weston: Provided nursery and labor
• Joe Corcoran: Organizes and maintains my work at East End Veterans’ Memorial Garden
• Kurt (CFI/Com Corps): Organized plantings in The Plains, Ohio, after a severe tornado; we planted over 130 trees in that town.
• Mark Sullivan (County Commissioner): Instrumental in securing my favorite orchard site yet, next to the welfare office
• Shannon Stewart: Executed the planting of a small orchard at UCM, a place in town with bi-weekly free community meals
• Athens City Schools: Passed out tree coupons and hosted an orchard
• Chris Chmiel (Integration Acres): Organized the Paw Paw festival, my favorite event at which we plant
This project involved education through production. The result of this project was we got a lot of fruit trees planted in environments where they will be utilized. Also, we helped people get invested in the nutritional welfare of their communities, while showing them how to nurture and grow this investment. Through the course of this grant, we planted and maintained 21 community orchards, and planted and distributed over 800 fruit and nut trees.
Conventional tree crop production and distribution relies on near-mono cropping, intensive chemical management, and vast logistical infrastructure. The system we are helping to create grows food where the people are with minimal inputs of capital, chemicals, labor, and logistics. However, our fruit will be blemished and require individual responsibility for harvesting, processing, and storage by the consumer. This year, I am not giving away trees to individuals; generally they are neglected or abused. We are looking for more festivals to plant at, as that is very effective.
I’ve learned that just because I found a simple solution to part of a complex problem doesn’t necessarily necessitate enthusiasm from other parties. I am scaling back production to meet the demand of organizations that ask for help with orchards.
We have not ended people’s reliance on industrial systems that they cannot control, but we’ll keep trying. The advantages of this project are healthier people and healthier environments and strengthening the marriage between the two. The major disadvantage is that an upstart system that is in opposition to the economic establishment will struggle to support itself financially.
I tell anyone examining the complex challenges we face that there are indeed simple solutions, but simple does not mean ease and comfort.
• We sent home fliers with school kids, receiving 62 responses
• We set up booths at 3 festivals, receiving an unknown number of responses
• This project has been in several newspapers about a half dozen times. Unfortunately, I retained no copies.