A Fruit Tree Care Dream Team in Toronto’s San Romanoway

by

They battle the odds. They never give up. They work together to make a difference. That’s the energy of San Romanoway’s “Dream Team,” the 2016 students and graduates of Orchard People’s Beginner Fruit Tree Care Training Program working together with their colleagues who graduated in 2015.

This group has done it all…they have climbed tall neighborhood fruit trees to remove diseased branches. They’ve worked together to thin out branches and improve air circulation in older trees. They are comfortable on a ladder, with a pole pruner or hand pruner or with a digging shovel in hand.

But their adventure began with a dream – the dream of bringing food security, greenery and growth to the Toronto community of Jane and Finch, which has long been challenged by poverty, youth unemployment and crime. This training, and the newly planted orchard on the property, has brought a new dimension to the lives of young people in this community and the possibility of new fruit tree adventures for years to come.

Fruit tree planting day at San Romanoway in 2016.

The San Romanoway Towers Revival Project aims to boost sustainability and food security on this property in Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood that is home to thousands of people who live in privately owned condos or low-income housing.

How it all Began

The fruit tree care training program is part of a dynamic initiative called the San Romanoway Towers Revival Project which aims to boost sustainability and food security on this property that is home to thousands of people who live in privately owned condos or low-income housing.

Spearheaded by the Toronto and Region Conservation Association (TRCA), the program was made possible as the result of support from amazing groups such Metcalfe Foundation, Toronto Hydro, Boise Project UP and W. Garfield Weston Foundation. The program has been implemented with the support of FoodShare and my company Orchard People Fruit Tree Care Consulting and Education.

Planting fruit trees in public spaces is no longer a new thing in North America. What was different in this initiative is that the TRCA felt that it was not enough to plant the fruit trees and hope for the best. So they included Orchard People’s Beginner Fruit Tree Care Certificate Program for residents to teach them how to care for their trees.

Many of the sessions in San Romanoway's Certificate in Fruit Tree Care took place in private gardens where the students learned how to prune trees of all ages.

Many of the sessions in San Romanoway’s Certificate in Fruit Tree Care took place in private gardens where the students learned how to prune trees of all ages. Students clockwise from front left: James Hackman, Chelliah Thevanayahy, Marina Pucci, Fabian Felicien, Adrian Inshan, Connor Allaby, Rosalyn Endlich.

Fruit Tree Care On Site and Off

The Beginner Fruit Tree Care Certificate Program consists of 9 two-hour classes. The students learned theory in the classroom but spent at least half of the 18-hour program out of doors, using their new skills in hands-on fruit tree pruning and care.

Two students prune a large fruit tree in a residential backyard

Students Connor Allaby and Fabian Felicien prune a large fruit tree in a residential backyard

We visited neighbourhood gardens to work on privately owned fruit trees of all ages. Often local homeowners, like Wilson Mosquera, had been encountering problems with their trees like fruit tree pest and disease problems and poor fruit production. Wilson and his family had apple, cherry and pear trees in their lovely garden. But his fruit trees trees were not thriving.

The students came, sterilized their tools and got to work. They removed larger diseased branches with a handsaw. They improved the air circulation on the trees and promoted growth by removing smaller branches with hand pruners, loppers and pole pruners. Over two hours the fruit trees looked very different. Wilson and his family were impressed.

“It was a surprise there was such help available for people (with fruit trees). The students talked to me and clarified all the things I didn’t know about how to care for my trees. It was a beautiful experience. Before I had a few issues with my trees, now (after the student’s work) they are doing well. Now one of my apple trees has produced so much fruit that the branches are starting to be heavy,” Wilson says.

James learns how to use a handsaw to remove a large diseased branch off a mature fruit tree in a local backyard. Students faced all sorts of challenges during the course, including challenges in their own newly planted orchard. (photo credit: orchardpeople.com)

James Hackman uses a handsaw to remove a large diseased branch off a mature fruit tree in a local backyard. Students faced all sorts of challenges during the course, including challenges in their own newly planted orchard. (photo credit: orchardpeople.com)

Drought, Hail and Other Fruit Tree Challenges

But this year’s course came with many challenges. For instance, planting day was scheduled for May 15th and our goal was to plant 14 bare root fruit trees in the San Romanoway Orchard. But that morning there was an unseasonal wind and hailstorm! The students showed up ready to go to work anyway, but due to the terrible conditions we rescheduled the planting for the following day.

Rosalyn on planting day. San Romanoways Scheduled planting day was cancelled due to a wind and hailstorm. It was rescheduled the next day which was lovely, sunny and calm.

San Romanoway’s planting day was rescheduled due to a wind and hailstorm.

The next challenge was drought. This year we had the driest spring that we’ve had here in Ontario for years. This, coupled with delays in setting up the orchard’s irrigation system, made it challenging for the group to irrigate the orchard’s young trees. But even that didn’t stop the San Romanoway Dream Team, who met in the orchard multiple times a week to water the trees using water from the site’s rain barrels or carrying heavy buckets of water from the nearby community vegetable plots.

The students faced a fireblight breakout in their orchard as this nasty bacterial disease has been spreading in various locations in Toronto. And in another experience they found that an apricot tree planted years ago on the site was covered with a fruit tree pest called scale. That tree was removed to protect San Romanoways newly planted orchard. All this gave the students a glimpse of the challenges fruit tree growers can face and how important it is that you know how to protect your orchard with proper care.

And yet, despite the challenges the San Romanoway Dream Team was amazing. They worked together. They came up with solutions. And the fact that the young trees on the site are growing well today is completely the result of their knowledge, teamwork and dedication.

Click the arrows above to see the graduates on graduation day! 

Graduation, Tools and Student Jobs

After a whirlwind course, graduation day for the 10 students of San Romanoway’s 2016 fruit tree care program was Saturday May 21st. We met in the beautiful orchard in nearby Downsview Park. Planted 5 years ago, this was an opportunity to see how their fruit trees would look after five years of proper care. The day was sunny and lovely and the team brought family and friends to join in the fun.

Over the duration of the course the students had learned everything from fruit tree pruning, planting bare root trees, pest and disease prevention, and soil management so we started with a 20 question written test on Beginner Fruit Tree Care and a group review of the answers.

Graduates received free tools and a tool bag from Corona and a free copy of award-winning fruit tree care book Growing Urban Orchards

Graduates received free tools and a tool bag from Corona and a free copy of award-winning fruit tree care book Growing Urban Orchards

Then each graduate went up to accept their Certificate of Completion and a number of gifts including hand pruners and a tool bag generously donated by Corona Tools and a copy of my award-winning fruit tree care book “Growing Urban Orchards” that they can refer to over the years when caring for local fruit trees.

One of the graduates, Marina who comes from Brazil and has a degree in Biology, felt that she learned much more than she had expected in this free course. By the time graduation day arrived, she realized that completing the course was an achievement.

“Graduation day was so much fun. I felt it was a big accomplishment. It was good to do the test to see that I really learned the content of the course. It felt complete – the test, the get together and the opportunity to do even more hands on pruning. Then we got our free tools and the graduation certificate. I felt very satisfied that I achieved something,” she said.

The site was beautiful. There was lots of great food and celebration. And the students left empowered with knowledge that they can use in the future in caring for the San Romanoway Orchard or caring for other neighbourhood trees. The training also opened up the door to paid work for a number of the graduates:

  • Rosalyn Endlich was hired for a full time summer job caring for the orchard in Downsview Park where she is caring for 200+ fruit trees.
  • James Hackman and Saraswathy Jesudasan were given an honorarium for leading the stewardship activities in San Romanoway’s young orchard.
  • I hired Lisa Forsyth and James Hackman to help me during a planting day in another community orchard in Scarborough.

 

Graduates James and Lisa work with local homeowner Mr Mosquera to treat and prune his fruit trees.

Graduates James Hackman and Lisa Forsyth work with local homeowner Wilson Mosquera to treat and prune his fruit trees. The students now have enough knowledge to find work pruning neighbourhood trees. The key is to continue working with fruit trees every year to continue to hone and develop those skills. (Photo credit: OrchardPeople.com)

The Only Way to Develop Fruit Tree Care Skills Is to Keep Using Them

Chelliah and Kalanithy prune an older tree in Wilson's garden.

Chelliah and Kalanithy prune an older tree in Wilson’s garden.

I loved working with the San Romanoway Dream Team this year and I loved working with last year’s fantastic graduates. Their enthusiasm, focus and energy is inspiring. My hope is that they will keep honing and developing their tree care skills by practicing and using those skills each year, caring for San Romanoway’s young trees and for other trees in the community. My students know that if they ever have any questions or concerns, they can always reach out and ask me. I will always encourage them to continue this important work.

So congratulations to the San Romanoway Dream Team! It’s been such an honour to work with you. Wishing you lots of rewarding fruit tree care adventures in the years to come! Hoping you will keep in touch!

Susan Portrait hatSusan Poizner is the Director of Fruit Tree Consulting and Education Company Orchard People. She is the author of the award-winning fruit tree care book Growing Urban Orchards and the creator of the award-winning online fruit tree care training program at www.orchardpeople.com.

IMG_5622[1]

Graduates and organizers of the San Romanoway Certificate in Beginner Fruit Tree Care of 2016. Top row from left to right – Jessica MacDonald (Organizer, TRCA), Chelliah Thevanayahy (student), Lisa Forsyth (student), James Hackman (student), Marina Pucci (student), Rosalyn Endlich (student), Connor Allaby (student). Front Row from left to right Kalanithy Chessi (student), Susan Poizner (Teacher, OrchardPeople.com), Jeanny Gonzalez (Organizer, FoodShare).

Learn More About Fruit Trees

When it comes to fruit tree skills, practice makes perfect!

When it comes to fruit tree care skills, practice makes perfect. That’s what the interns have discovered who are involved in the the fruit tree care internship project at San Romanoway in Toronto’s Jane and Finch area.

Read More

Red Deer Community Orchards Thrive With The Help of City Staff

Red Deer Alberta becomes an edible city under the guidance of city staff trained in specialist fruit tree care.

Read More

Jesuit Pear Trees – Is it time to bring back this heirloom tree?

Jesuit Pear Trees produce pears that are sweet, spicy and very rare. This cultivar has been growing in North America since the 1700s and it is disease resistant. Is it time for a Jesuit Pear revival?

Read More

Recycling Urban Trees

Sometimes a tree comes to the end of its life due to old age or sickness, and it can be heartbreaking to send it to the chipper. A project in Virginia is working hard to link up arborists, foresters, millers and artisan woodworks to save trees from that sad fate.

Read More

Edible Community Garden Grant: Free Fruit Trees – And Fruit Tree Care Training

Get Free Fruit Trees and Free Fruit Tree Training for your group. Apply for the TreeMobile OrchardPeople.com Edible Community Garden Grant (For those in Toronto, Richmond Hill, Guelph and Cambridge Ontario).

Read More

Fertilizer Focus: Is Chicken Manure Good For Fruit Trees

Is chicken manure good for fruit trees? Not always. Read this blog to find on when to use this popular fertilizer.

Read More

Susan’s Story on The UrbanFarm Podcast

Learn the story of Susan Poizner, founder of OrchardPeople.com and the challenges of creating a community orchard in Toronto, Canada

Read More

Holiday Discount – Just for Ewe!

Celebrate the holidays with Orchard People. We’re offering 25 percent off the price of our online fruit tree care training course until December 31, 2016 – just for you!

Read More

Pressing Apple Cider: A Family Affair

For some families harvesting their apple trees and pressing apple cider is a family tradition. Meet author Steve Biggs and his family on a cider pressing day.

Read More

Dwarf cherry tree or cherry shrub? Which is better for your garden?

Dwarf cherry tree? Or cherry shrub? Which is a better choice for your small garden?

Read More

Listen To Our Fruit Tree Podcast

Episode 21: How to Grow Beach Plums

Learn how to grow beach plums and how to develop genetically diverse plant communities that will thrive in your unique conditions.

Read More

Episode 20: Battling Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs

April 25, 2017 – It has devestated orchards in parts of the United States….and now Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs may be on their way to a fruit tree near you. Learn how to protect your trees in this podcast.

Read More

Episode 19: All You Need To Know About Pawpaws

They are native in North America. The fruit is delicious. So why do some find that pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba) so hard to grow? Find out the secrets to success in this podcast.

Read More

Episode 18: The Best of Urban Forestry Radio 2016

Highlights of The Urban Forestry Radio Show from 2016 including an adventure in seabuckthorn, the nasty lives of beneficial bugs, fireblight, and the future of growing fruit trees.

Read More

Episode 17: Fruit Trees in the Desert, Native Edibles

Learn how to grow fruit trees in the desert…or in drought…with Greg Peterson of Urbanfarm.org. And how to grow and enjoy native edibles from seed with expert Russ Cohen.

Read More

Episode 16: Growing Chestnut Trees

Explore Iowa’s annual chestnut festival. Learn how to cook chestnuts. And learn how to grow chestnut trees from seed and what cultivars to choose.

Read More

Episode 15: The Next Great Apple

The search is on for the next great apple tree. We chat with Rob Wyles of Washington State who discovered the new “Foxtrot” apple and to Daryl Somers of the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre in Ontario about the science behind taste and apple breeding.

Read More

Episode 14: Learning From Leaves & Cherry Root Stock

What do the leaves of your tree tell you about its health? And explore the types of cherry root stock and why it’s important to choose the right one.

Read More

Episode 13: How to Make Cider – and Girls in the Trees

Learn how to make cider with your apple harvest with Ben Watson, Author of Cider Hard and Sweet. And learn why women are being encouraged to look for jobs in arboriculture and forestry in an interview with Katrina van Osch-Saxon of Fleming College’s Urban Forestry Program.

Read More

Episode 12: Fireblight. And Persimmon Passion!

Learn how to protect your apple and pear trees from fireblight. And how to choose a persimmon variety to plant that actually tastes good!

Read More