When you are planting a community orchard, how do you ensure that your volunteers feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for the trees? Some groups establish an Adopt-a-Fruit-Tree project. I’m currently teaching a fantastic group of students – aged 9 to 60+ – as part of the San Romanoway Revival Project in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood in Toronto. All of the students live on this property which includes low-rent high-rise buildings as well as privately-owned condos. What I’ve found is that my students feel a sense of ownership when they are given one tree that is “theirs” as part of an adopt-a-fruit-tree program.
In the first class of my 9-part Beginner Certificate in Fruit Tree Care on the site, I handed each student a piece of paper with a tree cultivar name and a description. Each cultivar had been carefully chosen for the site’s unique conditions. Many were unusual, disease-resistant trees. Each student read their description to the class and from that moment the bond began. On planting day, my students planted and performed the very first pruning cut on “their” year-old fruit tree “whip”.
Later on in the workshop series, after learning more about pruning, pest and disease identification, fertility management and more, they signed their official Adopt-a-Fruit-Tree form They now knew more about the essential tasks involved in caring for fruit trees organically and they were ready and excited to make their “adoption” official.
By signing, they commit to caring for their tree for one year including watering it twice a week as necessary, adding compost in the early spring, ensuring it’s pruned annually in the spring (be sure to prune correctly as incorrect pruning can permanently damage a fruit tree), monitoring for pest and disease and cleaning up the fallen fruit and leaves in the fall.
The youngest in the group, Isioma, was so excited about having her own Asian Pear tree that she asked for a second one to care for. Saraswathy, an adult student, is so proud of her sweet cherry tree that she reported to me how well it’s flowering and how beautiful it looks. While it’s wonderful to care for a growing tree, the students all realize that when the tree is ready to produce fruit, it will be shared amongst the community.
Part of the incentive for the project is to give people on this site, in one of the most disadvantaged parts of our city, a sense of pride in their community and the feeling that they are making a difference. Well, in my eyes, they really are making a difference. This is such an inspiring and talented class and it’s been an honour to teach them. Once they complete their certificate program in June, they will be more than capable to care for their own trees and to help maintain privately owned trees in the neighbourhood. Most importantly, the students will understand that planting a fruit tree is a joy but it’s also a responsibility that should not be taken lightly.
The San Romanoway Revival Project was brought to the community by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority’s SNAP program (Sustainable Neighbourhood Retrofit Action Plan) and was made possible thanks to sponsors including Metcalf Foundation, The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, Trillium Foundation, Boise Project UP and Fiskar’s Tools and partners including property owners and managers, San Romanoway Revitalization Association, the City of Toronto, Orchard People Fruit Tree Care Education and FoodShare.
Are you interested in starting an Adopt-a-fruit-tree project in your community? I’d love to hear about it. And feel free to download and use this adopt-a-tree contract for your project by clicking here and you can also download PDF copies of the additional resources below. Contact us if you would like your group’s logo to appear on any of these documents.