Plant an urban fruit orchard, grow a vibrant city

October 23, 2017

As we’ve talked about before, the positive impact of people sharing food in public space simply can’t be overstated. Many park people across Canada have introduced fruit orchards into public spaces to improve food security, promote food literacy, reach environmental goals and increase community cohesion. This summer I spoke with Anita Georgy, Executive Director of Richmond Food Security Society, and Catherine Falk, Community Greening Coordinator at the City of Edmonton, about their on-the-ground experiences running programs that utilize urban fruit trees for public benefit.

Community food growing contributes to food security and food literacy

Food grown on public lands can play a huge role in building the ‘food security continuum,’ a term Anita uses. The term describes a range of positivie food-related interventions from giving food to people to food system re-design and systems change. Community food growing like fruit orchards can provide numerous roles along the specrtum: from providing food to neighbours in need to greatly advancing food literacy for a whole neighbourhood.  

Anita has an eye-opening way of explaining the different impacts vegetables and perennial fruit crops can have in public space.

“You can think of your vegetables (tomatoes, cucumber, kale) as a cash bank account you can withdraw from regularly. A food forest produces more and more food over time. You can think of it as an RRSP. Planting perennial vines and fruit is a solid long term investment in food security.”

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Fruit tree recovery responds to food waste and addresses food security

One of the biggest complaints about fruit trees is that if the fruit’s not picked, the fallen fruit creates a mess surrounding the trees. The good news is that there are now many fruit recovery programs in cities across Canada. Organizations, such as the Richmond Food Security Society, Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton, Hidden Harvest Ottawa, Not Far From the Tree and Found Forgotten Food Nova Scotia are helping to glean excess fruit from privately owned trees and share the would-be-wasted fruit with food banks, volunteers and the owners of the tree. This keeps the fruit off the ground and puts it into the hands of people who can really use it. 

Planting fruit-bearing perennials in parks can help municipalities reach canopy goals

In 2013, the City of Edmonton launched the Root for Trees campaign to establish a 20% canopy cover over 10 years while engaging and educating the community. The program is focused on increasing the canopy with native species only. Fruit-bearing plants like cranberry and serviceberry are regularly planted as part of the program.

Catherine, who coordinates the Root for Trees program explains, planting a food forest helps the city satisfy habitat planting goals while contributing to food security. The Food Forest is located along a busy river valley trail system and because of that, it is available for anyone to utilize the growing bounty of fresh berries. Because the fruit-bearing perennials they plant are native to the region,  the project worked as a restoration project and provide food to passersby.

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Photo Credit: Blackberries, Stephanie Overton 

When there’s food involved, community members want to be a part of it

The initial idea for the Edmonton Food Forest planting came when a local school teacher with a strong interest in urban agriculture approached the city with an idea to include only food-bearing native plants in the river valley.  Since the initial food forest planting in 2014, over 4,000 fruit-producing shrubs have been planted and the city has expanded the food forest to 1/4 hectare. The Forest brings people to the space and fosters awareness of watersheds and environmental stewardship while improving food security.

There is a large community interest in the Food Forest planting that has attracted volunteer planters from as far away as Calgary to join in on the project. Neighbourhoods across Edmonton are now requesting their own food forests. If you are interested in volunteering  with Root for Trees to plant at the Food Forest or another event, you can register on our webpage, www.rootfortrees.ca.

If you want to learn more about starting an urban food forest in your community read our blog Planting a Food Forest: 4 tips from an expert.

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