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Major city reaps benefits of steadfast urban gardening movement: 'Something that more people in my area needed access to'

"My dream is that residents have the resources they need."

"My dream is that residents have the resources they need."

Photo Credit: Philadelphia Orchard Project

The Philadelphia Orchard Project is on a mission to feed the city and create more green spaces for communities, one fruit tree at a time. 

Since 2007, the nonprofit organization has collaborated with community groups and volunteers to plant and support orchards throughout Philadelphia in mostly disadvantaged areas with limited access to fresh produce. From the beginning, POP's vision has been simple: Give people the opportunity to eat healthy food, regardless of where they live, and provide them with training and tools to care for the orchards. 

According to the organization's website, the efforts have been bearing plenty of fruit, with 54 orchards planted and 68 supported, amounting to over 1,600 trees and more than 4,000 shrubs and vines producing food. 

Now, fruit trees can be found in almost every Philadelphia neighborhood, thanks to POP and a local tree giveaway organization, as Grist reported. In 2019, the outlet stated that over 6,500 Philadelphians had eaten from the orchards, some of which produce hundreds of pounds of fruit per week. 

POP has more than 900 volunteers to help with its mission, including local resident Garrison Hines. According to Grist, he quickly discovered his love for farming after an urban gardener told him mulberry trees were growing all over the city, sparking his interest in growing food for his community.

Since then, he's been involved in various urban rewilding projects and even planted his own orchard with 14 fruit trees, including apple and elderberry. What was once a vacant lot is now a thriving food forest that combats food insecurity in the city and brings neighbors together. 

"I quickly realized that this is something that more people in my area needed access to," Hines told Grist. "So I'm just trying to find ways to create more."

When he's not tending to his orchard, you can find him harvesting fruits and vegetables at another local food forest in Fairmount Park, which produces "anywhere from 200 to 300 pounds of produce a week … and is gone within minutes," as he told the outlet

While fruit trees can take several years to start producing fruit, the wait is well worth it since they provide a free, reliable food source for decades to come. However, as extreme weather becomes more common because of the changing climate, POP told Grist that it's focusing on growing fruit trees that can withstand harsher weather. Persimmons, figs, pawpaws, and Asian pears are some of the trees it's considering planting. 

Another benefit of the urban fruit tree movement is that it introduces people to new foods and also helps communities reconnect with the land. 

"My dream is that residents have the resources they need to pursue food production in the ways that best benefit them and connect them to their neighbors, culture, and ancestors," Marisa Wilson, an urban forestry community organizer in Philadelphia, told Grist.

The increase in tree cover and vegetation also reduces the urban heat island effect, providing communities with shade and improving air quality. In addition, animals will appreciate having more food and shelter, and the trees can help mitigate flooding. It's a win-win-win for people, wildlife, and the planet. 

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