Article appeared in the Permaculture Activist no. 69 (Autumn 2008). The Philadelphia Orchard Project’s website is www.phillyorchards.org. Please also check out POP photographer Albert Yee’s slideshow of the USBG Orchard.
PERMACULTURE GOES TO WASHINGTON
For the next six months, Permaculture will have a prominent place in the nation’s capital, right under the noses of the 110th Congress. I’ve just returned from a rare opportunity: designing and installing an edible forest garden on the National Mall, within sight of the Capitol Building. The installation is a representation of the work of the Philadelphia Orchard Project, which was invited to participate in the US Botanic Garden’s One Planet annual display program. At its prominent position on the front terrace of USBG, the forest garden is expected to receive more than 1.7 million visitors between May and October.
ORIGINS OF POP
A city of great needs and great opportunities, Philadelphia is ripe for Permaculture. It is the poorest major city in the United States, with 25% of the population below the poverty line and 50,000 chronically hungry children. There are also 40,000 vacant lots in the city, a legacy of 20th Century deindustrialization. Indeed, some neighborhoods in North, South, and West Philadelphia have more abandoned land than buildings standing. This combination of vacant land and hungry people makes for some very basic math for a Permaculturist. The Philadelphia Orchard Project (POP) has introduced a simple solution to address both problems: the transformation of neglected urban spaces into vibrant community orchards.
Paul Glover and I arrived in Philadelphia at about the same time in the Fall of 2006. A long time activist, Paul moved from Ithaca where he’d founded Ithaca Hours, the nation’s most successful alternative currency, and the Ithaca Health Alliance, a health cooperative providing an alternative to our broken health care system. I moved from Brooklyn where I had developed and managed an urban farm at the historic Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum. At a forum on sustainable food, I came across Paul’s flyer for the first Philly Orchard Project meeting. From its humble beginnings as a series of potlucks last winter, POP grew quickly from a vision into an organization. Paul claimed to have biked down every street in the city, spreading the word about POP to anyone who would speak to him. From this came a core of volunteers, a functioning non-profit board, and countless requests from communities around the city for orchards to be planted. A press release resulted in articles in every newspaper in the city, spots on local TV and radio, and even an article in the NY Times. It was this last article that led directly to the USBG invitation.
Note: Paul Glover now runs Green Jobs Philly (greenjobsphilly.org).
THE POP PROTOCOL
The Philadelphia Orchard Project is intended to function as a highly efficient force for the rapid expansion of permanent, sustainable agriculture in the city. Essentially, we assist existing community groups to plan and plant orchards on vacant lots and other underutilized spaces in their neighborhoods. We feel the strength of our strategy lies in its truly bottom up approach and efficient use of existing resources in the form of both community and organizational partners. POP’s strategy is defined as a series of steps in our protocol document, summarized below:
Original protocol ellipsed here as it no longer accurately represents the operating procedures of POP. Please visit www.phillyorchards.org for up to date information.
PHILADELPHIA: THE NEXT GREAT ORCHARD
POP planted three orchards in the fall of 2007. In Spring of 2008, we’ve planted seven more and expanded a couple of the earlier plantings. We’ve planted all over the city in neighborhoods in North, South, West, and Center City Philadelphia, primarily in low-income areas in need of greater food security. We’ve worked with a wide range of partners: youth-led urban farms, community gardens, elementary schools, a community development corporation, a museum, and a community center. We have a large waiting list of interested potential community partners in various stages of evaluation for the fall.
The orchards POP plants are edible forest gardens, with diverse plantings designed for relatively low maintenance demands and for both short and long term production. A wide variety of fruit and nut trees, from pears, plums, and cherries to figs, persimmons, and filhazels. Understory plantings of berry bushes and multifunctional perennials and groundcovers. Vines covering walls and fences. Eventually we would like to expand the scope of the orchards to include other whole cycle features including neighborhood composting facilities, water harvesting, greenhouses, beekeeping, and small animals.
We expect these orchards to have a multiplicity of beneficial effects for the surrounding communities. Fresh produce that improves nutrition and health and expands local food security. Business opportunities for communities and individuals through the sale of produce and value-added products like jams, juices, and canned goods. Environmental benefits including reduction of stormwater runoff, absorption of carbon emissions and other pollution, mitigation of urban heat, and reduction of fossil fuel use for food production and distribution. Attractive green spaces that bring communities together and boost neighborhood pride.
Philadelphia and other cities that suffered much with 20th Century deindustrialization are ironically now well suited to adapt to the challenges facing us all. Ten urban eco-orchards now planted and 39,000 to go. Each orchard will rise individually from the needs, hopes, and efforts of neighborhoods and communities. Philadelphia will rise as a new 21st century city, a thriving center of urban agriculture and green economy.