Story by Liz Corcoran, originally published April 2010 on Tonic.com; Photos courtesy of Lisa Bretherick/The London Orchard Project
The London Orchard Project's pick-your-own ethic is tackling climate change and food security in the city. Thanks to The London Orchard Project, London's grimy landscape is blossoming. Neglected areas have been given a new lease on life through the planting of fruit trees, which will someday soon provide fresh produce for local communities."It occurred to me while in a park that it would have been wonderful had our ancestors planted productive trees rather than non-productive trees," Carina Dunkerley (on the right), one of the founders of The London Orchard Project, says of her inspiration. "I had this vision of people picking apples on their way home from work and I thought, yes, we need more fruit trees."
Spurred into action, Dunkerley embarked on The London Orchard Project a year ago with friend Rowena Ganguli (above, left) who she'd met while studying for a Masters degree at Forum for the Future, a nonprofit organization with a mission to promote sustainable development.
The women discovered that while there were plenty of groups in the city focusing on growing vegetables, none were dedicated to fruit trees. "I started looking into it and my conclusion for it not happening, when it was such a good idea, was an absence of skills," says Dunkerley. "Very few people I met felt qualified to work with fruit trees and it's true, we're Londoners."
The women started testing the project last year, hosting an apple tasting and fruit pressing day at a London muesli company, followed by an open invitation to local community groups with access to land to become part of the project's pilot scheme. They were inundated with responses.
So far they have planted trees on 12 sites around the capital, focusing on underused corners of city parks, open spaces in areas of public housing, a college campus and even a north London elementary school. In more suburban areas, with already established fruit trees, they are working with local groups to set up harvesting and redistribution schemes. Apple trees form the bulk of the planting -- including rare heritage varieties of fruit once common in the surrounding areas.
"People visualize huge amounts of space when they think about orchards but you can grow smaller trees," says Dunkerley. "Some of our smaller sites have only five trees, just a patch of grass on a corner of a housing estate. But in time they will be producing a hell of a lot of fruit."
There is an educational aspect to the project, like getting inner city kids involved who may never have seen a fruit tree before. But the project has a wider mission as a way of addressing issues of food security, tackling climate change by reducing food miles and building community resilience.
The project works by providing trees and training to local community groups who nominate four orchard leaders to attend an orchard management skills training day where they learn technical skills and develop an orchard management plan. Once trained, they return to their groups with an agreement to pass on skills learned to another six people so that long-term management of the orchard can be assured. The ownership of the orchards is passed on to the local communities.
"Everything that's defined as sustainable in food is what the London Orchard Project does," says Rowena Ganguli. "Local skills, local food, in spaces that are underutilized. That for me is the most exciting thing about the project. It's securing the future of London's food supply and it's an inclusive thing. The orchards are community owned, so people can work together on something constructive and there is more community cohesion."
London isn't the only city promoting fruit production. In Manchester, in northern England, a $300,000 city plan to plant thousands of fruit trees and bushes across city parks was unveiled last year. The city is also introducing public vegetable plots and a pilot community beehive idea.
Similar projects in the US are also bearing fruit. The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation, based in Mill Valley, Calif. is a nonprofit charity planting fruit trees in city parks, public schools and low-income neighborhoods. Last year they planted five community orchards in New Orleans, in areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and collaborated with a project in Brazil to plant some 450 trees in low-income public schools.
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