The debate is raging from Toronto, Canada to Basel, Switzerland – should we plant fruit trees and community orchards in public parks? Enthusiastic residents and fans of urban agriculture say “yes!” but city authorities don’t always agree.
This is a debate we had here in Toronto in 2009, when my group planted Toronto’s first community orchard in our local park. Some of us wanted to grow apple trees, pear trees, apricot trees and more in our local park. Others in the community strongly opposed the project. In the end, with the help of our City Councillor Joe Mihevc, we reached a compromise. The volunteers of the Ben Nobleman Park Community Orchard were allowed to plant 14 fruit trees. This would be a pilot project. If it was successful, then other parks in the city could follow suit.
Well, that same debate is currently raging in Basel, Switzerland where urbanites want fruit trees planted while the staff at the local parks department are concerned. That’s why Monika Jaggi, an environmental consultant and science journalist who lives in Basel but spends a lot of time in Toronto, has been following our park’s development over the years.
“The City Department for Public Parks worries about who will care for the trees and who will harvest them,” Monika explained in a recent email.
“They don’t have the money or manpower to look after the trees. And their experience with urban agriculture so far has been quite sobering. Young people start gardening projects on public land with the permission of the city but after a while abandon them. Therefore the city fears the same will be happening with fruit trees.”
In 2011 Monika came to meet me in the park here in Toronto and she wrote her first article about our Ben Nobleman Park Community Orchard initiative called “Apples for all: About the Orchard in the City Park” in the German-language horticulture magazine in Switzerland called Der Gartenbau to introduce our project and describe the challenges and opportunities that the trees have brought to our community.
In January 2016 she published a follow up article in the same publication. The title was “Vom Erfolg eines Obstbaumgartens”(“About the Success of a Fruit Garden”). Her goal was to bring readers an update including more details about how we’ve battled with pest and disease problems and what Ben Nobleman volunteers do to keep our trees healthy and productive.
The debate continues in Basel, but in the meantime, Basel’s Public Parks Department is taking a cautious approach. They launched a pilot-project in a quiet park in the city. They chose this particular park because of its history – it was once a farm and had orchard trees. The Parks department has already planted 4 cherry and apple trees on full sized root stock (see an article discussing large versus small fruit trees here) and has plans to plant 20 fruit trees in the future focusing on heirloom varieties. City staff are currently caring for the trees and looking for volunteers to harvest the fruit. If that project is a success, they may consider planting more urban orchards.
I don’t understand German so can’t enjoy Monika’s writing, but I do feel proud that our experience in Ben Nobleman Park is helping others to make informed decisions about fruit trees. I so support planting them everywhere. As long as the trees will be actively cared for.
Susan Poizner is the author of the award winning fruit tree care book Growing Urban Orchards. She is one of the founders of the Ben Nobleman Park Community Orchard. She is the creator of the award-winning fruit tree care training program at www.orchardpeople.com.