Red Deer Community Orchards Thrive With The Help of City Staff

From spring to fall, residents who live near Red Deer community orchards in Alberta can pick free organic fruit from city-planted trees. Expanding a city’s green canopy with fruit trees is an inspiring idea. But as the city staff found out, integrating edible trees into traditional city spaces takes careful planning, specialized knowledge of fruit trees and community support.

Red Deer’s path to becoming an edible city began in 2013 after the urban forestry team received a grant from Tree Canada, recalls Ken Lehman, an ecologist who coordinates the city’s flourishing community gardens. But planting fruit trees brought new challenges like choosing the right species for icy cold Zone 3 winters.

Despite a steep learning curve, the community was eager to get started and in September 2013, city staff worked with sponsors and volunteers to plant the city’s first urban orchard. They planted cold hardy apples, plums, pears, haskaps, and Saskatoon berries near existing community garden plots to create Parkside Community Food Forest.

 

The Parkside community food forest planting in Red Deer, Alberta in 2013.

Learning How to Care for Fruit Trees in Red Deer Community Orchards

With the first fruit trees and shrubs planted, city staff focused on how to help them thrive. They knew sickly and diseased trees would dampen the community’s enthusiasm. Although the Red Deer urban forestry team knew a lot about trees, they had little experience managing fruit trees. So Ken and the team turned to Orchard People’s specialized online training on fruit care tree.

“We were putting in extra effort to help these new fruit trees succeed. But there was different pruning needed and the pests were different. There was a lot of trial and error in the beginning,” says Ken.

In Red Deer community orchards you can pick delicious organic fruit, including cherries, fresh off the tree.

After completing the eight-hour online course, the team learned how to meet the specific needs of fruit trees. Even for the certified arborists, there were light bulb moments while taking the training, notes Ken. Together, they built a fruit care program based on their new knowledge. This includes annual fruit tree pruning and regular monitoring for fruit tree pests and diseases.

“As an ecologist, I also appreciated that Orchard People included information on the natural connections between fruit trees and beneficial insects and pollinators,” says Ken. “In our downtown orchard, there’s a rooftop garden across the street and you can really see how the orchard and garden benefit each other.”

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A Fruitful Future in Red Deer

Thanks to the care and specialized know-how of the city staff, Red Deer’s fruit tree plantings are thriving and the edible movement is growing. Ken counts five urban orchards and food forests in Red Deer with more on the way.

And community support continues to grow. One of Red Deer’s big ongoing projects is the Piper Creek Restoration Agriculture project. The city is a partner in a multi-year effort to rejuvenate 25 acres of former farmland bordering a landfill site with more than 150 species of native, edible and pollinator friendly trees and plants.

A sign in one of Red Deer Alberta’s Community Orchards

Community Orchard Benefits Outweigh the Challenges

Despite the steep learning curve, the benefits to the city greatly outweigh any challenges. “We’re all learning and adapting as we plant and grow native and edible trees and plants,” says Ken. “As the fruit matures and people reap the benefits, there’s a lot of community excitement and pride in our city.

Learn more about Red Deer’s orchards and food forests and the list of Zone 3 edible trees, shrubs and vines grown in Red Deer.

Interested in urban fruit tree care? You can learn all the skills that the Red Deer city staff learned by signing up for your Certificate in Beginner Fruit Tree Care at OrchardPeople.com.

Andrea Bannister

Andrea Bannister

Freelance Journalist

A lifelong gardener, Andrea Bannister is a freelance communicator and mom of three outdoor-loving kids in Toronto, Ontario.