The roots of the growing movement
Locally-embedded growing and harvesting projects often develop from personal and community networks, rather than in response to specific policy initiatives. However, despite their different roots and manifestations, there are similar sets of projects springing up in and between cities around the world.
One example is the growing movement towards urban orchard projects. Along with urban food forests and edible landscapes, urban orchard projects are part of the emergence of a system of urban food forestry. Differentiated from allotment growing or green roofs, a key characteristic is the focus on utilizing public space and planting perennial crops.
On the Urban Food Forestry website only a few UK initiatives are noted, most of them in London. But there are many others across the UK and elsewhere. Several initiatives were inspired by the BBC’s Breathing Places ‘Tree O’Clock’ campaign in 2009. In Birmingham two inner city areas were transformed through the creation of unusual urban orchards, created by Artist in Residence Eleanor Hoad. In Cardiff the Orchard Cardiff project was organised by the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens and Cardiff Transition project.
Internationally, you can find the Chicago Rarities Orchard Project (CROP) initiated by urban farmer, Dave Snyder, who secured the support of the city to establish a not-for-profit land trust. Philadelphia’s Orchard Project aims to plant orchards in the city of Philadelphia to grow healthy food, green spaces and community food security. As a city with one of the highest poverty rates in America, the relationship between food poverty and security is a key driver. This is reflected in founder Paul Glover’s vision for a city which will “become the ‘next great city’ by rebuilding itself as an American refuge from expensive oil and gas”.
Here in Greater Manchester, and aside from the iconic Biospheric Foundation with its emphasis on urban forestry and socio-ecological systems, already profiled on Platform, there are a number of other initiatives.
The city centre’s first urban orchard is thought to have been planted in New Islington’s park in East Manchester by the designers Urban Splash, from an idea proposed by a resident who had a vision for producing local cider. A second early city centre orchard is in St John’s Gardens in Castlefield, planted in 2011. The orchard includes crab apple trees, Good King Henry (also known as poor-man’s asparagus) and perennial herbs Common Sorrel and Meadowsweet. It was designed by Daniela Coray, RHS national young designer of the year in 2011, and was relocated from Tatton Park to Castlefield where it has been adopted by residents for its long-term care.
The project was developed by Manchester Garden City, an independent initiative supported by CityCo city centre management company and Manchester based architect and design practice BDP, which aims to increase the amount of temporary green space on brownfield sites and encourage gardening and sustainable eating, and funded by CityCo and Manchester City Council.
Whilst these may be the first urban orchards in Manchester’s city centre, many others can be found further afield. Abundance Manchester is part of the Abundance Network, a voluntary movement which picks surplus or unwanted fruit from gardens and public trees and distributes it to local groups and communities. Abundance Manchester also looked after Kenworthy Community Orchard in Chorlton, South Manchester until summer 2014.
Kenworthy Orchard was planted in 1997 and contains around 100 fruit and nut trees and several beds of soft fruit. Administered by the Mersey Valley Wardens, the orchard has been looked after by Abundance Manchester since 2010 due to a lack of funding and the increasing neglect of the area. This has involved running practical training and volunteer days including apple, stone and soft fruit tree pruning, organic feeding of the trees, installing rabbit guards and tree and bush planting.
Despite some setbacks, including rabbits and vandalism, the group was committed to achieving its aims of improving the health and yields of the orchard, encouraging wildlife on the site and utilising its potential as a training ground for local people in orchard management and fruit production. From summer 2014, Abundance Manchester decided to step back and to hand it over, as a thriving community orchard, to local people who continue to care for the trees and their harvest.
More recently, Moss Side’s community orchard, with over 50 trees, has evolved as part of The Moss Gardens on the old Stagecoach Manchester site, which was acquired by Manchester City Council. The council invited local people to make suggestions for a 'meanwhile' use of the land while its long-term future was discussed. Dan Hasler, who runs the Moss Cider project, suggested including an urban orchard.
“We wanted the land to become a little part of Eden in an urban setting, which all the community could enjoy and help to grow."
According to press reports, Manchester City Council has since provided £10,000 through regeneration funding and cash grants for the project, and 13 trees. Heineken, whose Moss Side brewery employs more than 270 people locally, has also donated 25 apple trees to the project.
Other projects across Greater Manchester include the urban orchard in Sunnybrow Park in Gorton (2011) and more recently, the community orchard at Lightbourne Green in Swinton, with 24 fruit trees planted on disused playing fields and supported by Red Rose Forest and Salford City Council’s Health Improvement Service.
One of the better known UK urban orchard organisations, referenced internationally, is The Urban Orchard Project (formally The London Orchard Project). Set up in 2009, it started off small with just three London based members of staff and now employs nine members of staff located in London, Manchester, Hereford and Birmingham. The Urban Orchard Project’s major new national initiative is Helping Britain Blossom, in partnership with Heineken and The Bulmer Foundation, which helps local people create, restore and access and enjoy their local orchards. Across London, where the Project has its origins, work included:
- Planting new community orchards. LOP has planted 60 new community orchards in London’s parks, housing estates, schools and universities. Each new orchard has around 10 trees, including a mix of new and heritage varieties of apples, pears and plums, and experimental varieties of mulberry, cherry, damson, mirabelle, apricot, medlar and peach.
"The trees look beautiful and crucially it's positioned in the heart of our estate so visible to all. It's great to have something special for the community on the estate…" - Hackney, May 2013
- Rejuvenating and restoring neglected orchards. LOP has already worked on ten neglected orchards to carefully nurture them to revive the trees and extend the lifetimes of the orchards as valuable biodiverse habitats.
"…how delighted we are at the change in our old orchard since you helped us to prune it in January. After not flowering for the last 3 years, it’s now in full blossom. It really has been given a whole new lease of life!"
- Developing a new apple for London. The Core Blimey is the first London apple to be developed since 1953. It has a unique sweet and aromatic taste, is resistant to disease, bred to withstand London’s urban environment and is easy to grow. Over 100 trees have already been planted in orchards across the capital.
"We thought it would be a great idea to introduce a new apple to London and give people the chance to taste something different from the fruit you get in supermarkets."
- Organising, publicising and taking part in a busy calendar of local events including regular planting, pruning and harvesting of orchards, and social events such as the London Orchard Festival as part of national Apple Day, wassailing, and apple juice and cider making.
"We held a wassail day in January for the first time…it was a huge success. It helped people to notice and see the value of the orchard and was generally a very happy coming-together for the community."
- Helping to deliver the targets of the mayor of London’s RE:LEAF programme by planting new community orchards to ensure there is always one tree for every London resident, keeping pace with London's growing population.
The growth and nurturing of an active network of people and groups, alongside their focus on new, existing and derelict orchards, has been one of The Urban Orchard Project’s key achievements, proving that it is possible to sustain a community of interest from a small central base in London that has now been extended to cities and towns across the UK.
Urban orchard projects are defined as Alternative not simply because they provide a different source of fruit from the usual purchase at shops or supermarkets. Their additional benefits cover the collective aspiration to share and extend the benefits of the communal use of urban space including the sociable pleasure of growing, harvesting and eating local fruit, to greening the city environment by reducing urban heat and absorbing CO2, creating wildlife habitats, supporting biodiversity, teaching the valuable skills of planting and tending, and helping build food security and community resilience. The nurturing and harvesting of orchards extends the concept of local food projects by re-purposing neglected spaces as centres for local people that reconnect with a way of life that is often buried within urban structures.
Lewis McNeill, from the Urban Orchard Project, explains:
"For us all to have a future, we need to build resilience in communities. Becoming self-sufficient is not only long lasting, but these orchards can be low input, create biodiversity, mitigate climate change, bring people together, and look beautiful."
Although individual urban orchards are place-based initiatives anchored within local communities, the emergence of national and international networks that aim to link these separate sites identifies and builds on a strong shared sense of purpose in re-thinking food security at a global level.
Publicly available information online. This profile has been written drawing on work carried out through the EPSRC funded ‘Urban Retrofit’ project and Mistra Urban Futures Greater Manchester Local Interaction Platform.
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Disclaimer: The article has been put together using publicly available information and online sources as part of a larger ongoing research project. The author has no responsibility for the content or accuracy of those sites.
Catherine joined Salford University’s Centre for Sustainable Urban and Regional Futures (SURF) in summer 2013 as a Research Assistant, investigating alternative urban retrofit projects and governance for sustainable urban development. Her BA in Sociology, and MSc in Science and Technology Policy studied at Manchester University’s old Liberal Studies in Science department, were followed by a long career in social housing in Manchester and a Salford University PhD, completed in 2012, on innovation in response to the Code for Sustainable Homes.