To discover the new frontier of urban farming, you'll have to look up — and look sharp — for hanging fruit.
Urban orchards are dropping everything from apples to persimmons to avocados on Seattle, Bloomington, Ind., Boston, Toronto, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other North American cities. Groups like the Portland Fruit Tree Project advocate for public access to existing fruit trees so that people can glean crops that would otherwise go uneaten — an idea some are calling radical. Other groups are more interested in planting new groves of fruit trees on previously fallow city land.
Fruit trees produce food, but also provide shade, keep greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, improve water quality and may even deter crime. Advocates say they also have a longer lasting impact on communities than vegetable beds.
"When you plant lettuce, you produce food for today, which is great, but when you plant a tree, you're feeding people tomorrow," says Nina Beth Cardin, director of the Baltimore Orchard Project, a program of the Baltimore non-profit Civic Works. The orchard project has planted thousands of apple, serviceberry, pawpaw, fig and pear trees on public and private land around Baltimore. City officials, striving to meet a goal of increasing the city's tree canopy, have been providing starter trees to Cardin's group, which in turn helps churches and schools plant and learn to maintain fruit trees.
In Philadelphia, fruit trees have a special knack for bringing people together, says Phil Forsyth, executive director of Philadelphia Orchard Project. Since a large tree takes up space, communities are more likely to treat it as a public resource, with the crop harvested and shared among many people, Forsyth says.
Forsyth's organization, founded in 2007, has helped plant nearly 40 orchards in and around Philadelphia and maintains a nursery stocked with small potted figs, cherries, mulberries and more. The organization provides these young trees to groups and individuals who apply for assistance to plant an orchard -- and meet some basic criteria. Forsyth says applicants must have spaces with sufficient sunlight and soil, and must also have long-term property leases or ownership of their land.