How do I boil down years of experience into a few paragraphs? Well, I’ll give it a shot. In 2008, I had a crazy dream. I wanted to plant fruit trees in my local park. And I managed to convince my wonderful friend and neighbour Sherry Firing that this was a good idea.
The two of us went through the process of pitching the idea to staff at the City of Toronto and to our community. We encountered lots of support and some resistance. Supporters were keen to have a community building project in our neighbourhood, a project that would beautify our little used park and feed our community to boot!
Those who were against the project were concerned that it might draw unsavoury characters to our neighbourhood, ranging from hungry people to marauding raccoons. Others were concerned that the fruit trees would attract bees that might sting their children or they were afraid that the urban-grown fruit would be toxic due to air pollution and poor soil.
We were fortunate to have two wonderful volunteers who researched and wrote papers on these topics for our website. Benjamin Langer wrote about Fruit Trees and Bees in Ben Nobleman Park and his sister Jessica Langer, Ph.D. wrote about urban fruit safety. We presented these and other findings to our community at a meeting, and prepared an Orchards 101 page on our website to address other valid concerns.
In the end, we did receive permission to plant our orchard in 2009 and the rest is history, much of which is written about in my book Growing Urban Orchards. Our park has become a centre for fruit tree care activities and celebrations over the years. We have regular stewardship days. We’ve planted a beautiful pollinator garden. We’ve held fruit tree care workshops, harvest festivals, and community events. Starting as a small used park, it has become a vibrant community hub.
My advice to you? Plant an orchard – but be sure to work with your community first to discuss concerns and work on solutions. And one of the biggest solutions is education. There is a lot of fear about growing fruit in local spaces, and when that is overcome, you will find that your fruit trees can become a centre for your community as well. Soon you will be able to check out our “How to Start a Community Orchard” workshop for more information.