Growing a Pear Orchard at an Organic Farm School to Increase Supply and Demand for Organic Tree Fruit in St. Louis, MO

Project Overview

FNC14-970
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2014: $7,500.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Rachel Levi
EarthDance

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Fruits: pears, general tree fruits

Practices

  • Crop Production: intercropping
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: market study
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, permaculture
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities

    Summary:

    To carry out the project “Growing a Pear Orchard at an Organic Farm School to Increase Supply and Demand for Organic Tree Fruit in St. Louis, MO” EarthDance farmers planted  an orchard consisting first of 60 pear trees.  Over the course of our orchard project, it expanded to include apples, tart cherries, service berries, and more. 

    EarthDance found that all educational opportunities associated with organic fruit production were highly popular, and that public interest in the project was enthusiastic.  St. Louis area market shoppers and food vendors are eager for local, organic fruit.

    Introduction:

    EarthDance proposed to install a half-acre pear orchard at our Organic Farm School in St. Louis, MO, in order to educate other local growers about best practices in sustainable orchard production, and thus address the insufficient supply of local, sustainably-produced fruit in St. Louis.  After the grant was awarded, EarthDance’s Farm Managers continued to research cutting-edge practices in organic fruit production.  Through consultation with the broad-scale permaculture farmer, Mark Shepard, and ATTRA educator and orchardist, Guy Ames, EarthDance Farmer, Matt Lebon, proposed that we diversify and expand the orchard, and integrate the orchard with EarthDance’s annual vegetable production.  This report will delve into the specifics of this revised planting and management plan in the Methods section.

     

    Project objectives:

    EarthDance completed the objectives associated with the original proposal, including:

    • conducting a survey of  food vendors/restaurateurs in the St. Louis region, assessing their interest in purchasing locally produced organic fruit
      • The survey was emailed to over 80 buyers of local produce, including chefs and grocers
      • follow-up phone calls were made to individuals who did not complete the survey
      • 13 responses were collected (EarthDance set a goal of hearing from 25 buyers but could not pin down any other responders)
      • 100% expressed interest in purchasing more locally grown fruit
      • 92% expressed interest in purchasing more local ORGANIC fruit
      • 57% said that they would like to purchase 1-50 additional lbs of local fruit per week
      • 28% said that they would like to purchase 50-100 additional lbs of local fruit per week
      • 15% said that they would like to purchase 100-300 additional lbs of local fruit per week
      • 100% said that they would pay more for locally grown fruit than its non-local version
      • Asian pears were the most requested fruit, followed by European pears, apples, and peaches.
    • planting pears in our orchard
      • EarthDance planted 62 pears, including 30 two-year-old trees and 32 pears grafted by EarthDance staff and participants in a grafting workshop
      • As the project expanded, EarthDance planted over 200 other fruit trees in addition to pears
    • educating our apprentices about orchard care
      • Provided several field walks about nursery tree care
      • Topics included pruning, tree guards, and deer protection
    • hosting workshops on topics relevant to organic orchard establishment
      • Goal: educate 50-100 individuals about organic fruit production
      • Met goal: 84 individuals participated in EarthDance’s workshops
      • Hosted the following workshops
        • Feb 2014: Organic Fruit Production and Grafting Fruit Trees, 35 participants
        • March 2015: Orchard Installation Workshop, 21 participants
        • May 2015: Organic Fruit Production class taught by Guy Ames, 28 participants
    • educating the public about the project

    EarthDance provided tours of EarthDance Farm for 1,486 individuals since the first orchard trees were installed in 2014.  During each tour, EarthDance staff point out the fruit trees laid out on contoured swales.  The tour guide explains the unusual aspects of the orchard, including alley cropping, the diversity of fruit trees laid out in a designed sequence, the earthworks, and weed-suppressing landscape fabric.  During tours, EarthDance staff discuss the challenge of organic fruit production in the lower Midwest, and the ways that our orchard is designed to mitigate these problems.  Our aim is to increase public interest in purchasing local organic fruit, and to increase the consumer’s willingness to pay a premium for organic local fruit, based on increased understanding of the organic farmer’s obstacles.  

    In addition to tours, EarthDance also issued a press release and posted a blog about the project to EarthDance’s website.  To conclude the project’s initial phase, we have published a factsheet available for download on the website and submitted to SARE with this report.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.