At our inaugural "pruning of our pear grove" at Genessee Orchard this past Sunday, volunteer extraordinaire Steve Getlein gave me an important book with the unfortunate title of CPULS (Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes). Despite its design and ponderousness prose, it nonetheless has great things to teach us.
It tells us for example that urban orchards create spaces that make room for welcome, beneficial neighborhood activities that thus prevent and displace undesirable neighborhood activities, such as crime, drugs and vandalism. (p. 57)
It tells us that in Europe in the early 18th century, parcels of public land were given to the poor "to compensate the landless rural poor for the enclosure of common land by the wealthy landowners." Before the enclosures, unlanded folk could forage, hunt and graze their sheep on open spaces, which, though owned by barons, etc, were considered part of the commons and thus available to all who used them responsibly. With the closing off of access to these formerly common lands, the peasants were deprived of a significant source of food, natural resources and hence a certain amount of common wealth.
In response, in the late 19th century, urban allotments of land were, by law, given to the poor to enable them to grow their own food in and around cities (p. 99)
The back to the land movement of the late 1800's and early 1900's envisioned "garden cities," semi-urban places that grew food, enhancing and circling city centers. No less a personage than Frank Lloyd Wright weighed in on the value of urban ag in his book called The Living City. In an ideal city, "architecture and acreage", that is buildings and agriculture, grey and green infrastructure, hard and soft surfaces would together form the perfect landscape.
So today, we are changing the nature of cities with the (re)creation of orchards and gardens and urban farms. But what if, in addition to all this, the city allotted green spaces specifically to those on food stamp programs? What if in neighborhood vacant lots, at local libraries, alleyways, edges of sidewalks and unused parking lots, just steps from where people lived, we dug up the land and created garden plots? And what if along with those plots the city trained and appointed gardening posses to travel from neighborhood to neighborhood bringing knowledge and experience to the garden sites, and the gardeners, themselves? And what if local churches and civic organizations and schools offered cooking and canning and preserving classes so that the abundance of food in season could be captured year round?
We are almost there. We already have hundreds of community gardens and an equal number of personal gardening plots that individuals rent on public land from the city annually. We have CGRN (the Community Gardens Resource Network), Baltimore GreenSpace, the city's Sustainability Office, the Food Policy Office and the Adopt a Lot program. We have all the pieces but we haven't quite put them all together this way yet.
This effort would be pegged to directly respond to the needs of the hungry, reaching out to and engaging them. It would offer them not only food for today but skills for feeding themselves tomorrow. As we wrote about in an earlier blog, urban gardening food activist Ron Finley accurately and poignantly says that growing food is like printing your own money. Perhaps over time, then, with the early successes of this program, some of the food stamp money could be weaned from purchasing food to providing the hungry with land and skills that can help them feed themselves over a lifetime. This would blend what is often called Food Justice, and a right to food, (which is access to food) with Food Sovereignty, being in control of your food. And perhaps too it could give participants the ability to become urban farmers, creating cottage industries that supply corner stores with fresh fruits and vegetables and help build a stable economic base in their neighborhood.
Who knows where this century's "return to the land" movement is heading. But we are happy to be a part of it.
Watch this fabulous Ted Talk by Ron Finley - talking about changing the environment, the look, the soil of cities so we can grow healthy food, healthy people, healthy neighbors.
Grab a shovel and begin planting - vegetables, berries, trees. As Finley says, growing your own food is like printing your own money. (Only legal! And tastier.)
Fruit trees are an enduring, hopeful part of gardening; a gift one generation gives another. We will eat the carrots we plant today. But the fruit trees we plant today will feed our children and grandchildren for decades to come.
See you in the orchard!
Food, fields and trees are all essential parts of the work we do. And if we manage them right, we create not only edible resources or lovely neighborhood open spaces, but areas that could be called Cultural Landscapes as well.
These are places rich with association, dreams, vision, history; places that help ground people, bind us to each other, and give us a deeper sense of home, of sharing, of pride. They can be works of art, narrators and transmitters of culture, expressions of identity.
One of the many reasons I love working with people and fruit trees is that it allows me to help transform space into place; an overlooked lot into a shared orchard; a spot of social (and often environmental and economic) waste into a place of communal trust.
Orchards were, after all, the original paradise. That is what the root of paradise means - fertile, verdant fruit gardens. How good it is to try to make Baltimore a paradise.
Jill Wrigley, a BOP Advisory Board member, teaches a wonderful UMBC course on "Food." It explores the history of food, food production, food distribution, urban agriculture, the changing food system - all within a framework of what we could call: the ethics of eating.
One of her earliest readings speaks particularly to the mission of the BOP. Called Right to Food, the article teaches the following:
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Committee on ESCR) in its General Comment 12 defines the right to food as follows:
“The right to adequate food is realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.”
And it continues to explain how this should play out:
The right to food is not a right to a minimum ration of calories, proteins and other specific nutrients, or a right to be fed. It is about being guaranteed the right to feed oneself, which requires not only that food is available – that the ratio of production to the population is sufficient – but also that it is accessible – i.e., that each household either has the means to produce or buy its own food.
The Baltimore Orchard Project is designed to contribute to this right, to the realization of everyone's desire and dignity to provide for themselves and their loved ones. The ability to grow or procure one's own food is a spiritual gift. It establishes a sense of confidence and softens the experience of poverty.
Providing Baltimoreans with access to free food is something we can do. Baltimore is rich in land. A by-product of our loss of a third of our population over the past decades - we have an abundance of usable urban land. Land in acres and land in patches; land privately held and land in the public trust.
Fruit trees can fill much of that land, absorbing and sequestering toxins that might be in the soil, re-establishing a healthy soil environment, slowing down and absorbing rainfall so less dirty stormwater runs into the Bay, creating welcome shade and neighborhood play spaces and feeding neighbors with healthy fruit.
We can plant and manage, harvest and glean fruit trees in the city. The fruit can be consumed by neighbors, given away to those in need or sold at affordable rates in local neighborhood stores. The fruit can be eaten whole in the harvest season, or dried, processed or preserved to be eaten throughout the year.
Public access fruit trees and community-run orchards will not alone create unshakeable food security, and they will not alone form a more just food system. But they are pieces that can help solve this puzzle of how to respond to everyone's right to food and build a more connected, resilient community of caring in the process.
I am not an "orchardist," or a "pomologist" (someone who is schooled in the study and cultivation of fruit). I am just a lover of fruit (and fruit trees) - like so many folks - who is learning more and more as time goes on.
The BOP has been honored with being a finalist in the Warschawski PR "design with purpose" pro bono website assistance program.
The final phase of this program involves public voting.
If you follow this link you will be able to vote for us. Please do! You can vote daily through March 18.
Even if we don't win, this contest gives us helpful visibility and cache! Help us come in with a good showing.
Thanks so much. And remember our March 17 pruning workshop. Hope to see you there!
Join us for this hands-on workshop on March 17, 2:00 - 4:00! We'll start indoors with a class on fruit trees and then move outdoors for a pruning demonstration on apple, fig, persimmon, pear, and plum trees. Led by Stanton Gill - IPM, entomology, and orchard specialist with the University of Maryland Extension.
To register visit: http://fruittreepruningdemo101.eventbrite.com/#
Event hosted by Real Food Farm, University of Maryland Extension, The Baltimore Orchard Project and Baltimore Free Farm.
Are you a tree advocate who wants action? Join TreeKeepers and get straight answers about urban trees and how to care for them.
TreeKeepers is a city-wide tree stewardship program starting this spring and open to anyone interested in Baltimore's trees. TreeKeepers promotes healthy trees by educating residents and increasing their role in the care of the City's trees. Through this training, citizens can become tree advocates and share the responsibility to plant and care for trees in their neighborhood and throughout the City.
TreeKeepers is being developed through a partnership among Baltimore City?s Department of Recreation and Parks? TreeBaltimore program, the Baltimore Tree Trust, and the Baltimore City Forestry Board with assistance from the Department of Planning?s Office of Sustainability, Baltimore Green Space, Blue Water Baltimore and the Parks & People Foundation.
TreeKeepers includes several levels and types of classes, ranging from purely educational to hands-on training that will teach citizens to care for their trees and environment. Some of the hands-on training will allow citizens to perform work on public trees that requires a permit; these classes will have a "test of competency" to certify citizens to perform the work. Certified tree planters and pruners will be encouraged to work with TreeBaltimore partners assisting at spring and fall tree planting events.
New classes teach residents about healthy trees for a healthy city.
Do trees eat my pipes?
How do I feed my trees?
How can I care for the trees in my neighborhood?
101 - Trees & Baltimore, Thurs., March 7th, 6:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. Vollmer Center, Cylburn Arboretum, 4915 Greenspring Ave 21209
102 - Science of Trees, Sat., March 16th, 12 noon - 3:00 p.m., Greenhouse Classroom, Cylburn Arboretum, 4915 Greenspring Ave 21209
For more information and to register, please visit www.baltimoretreetrust.org
I found this lovely quote in Dwellings: a spiritual history of the living world by Linda Hogan.
"It was in early February, during the mating season of the great horned owls. It was dusk, and I hiked up the back of a mountain to where I’d heard the owls a year before… I was halfway up the trail when I found a soft, round nest. It had fallen from one of the barest-branched trees. It was a delicate nest, woven together of feathers, sage and strands of wild grass. Holding it in my hand in the rosy twilight, I noticed that a blue thread was entwined with the other gatherings there. I pulled at the thread a little, and then I recognized it. It was a thread from one of my skirts. It was blue cotton. It was the unmistakable color and shape of a pattern I knew. I like it, that a thread of my life was in an abandoned nest, one that had held eggs and new life. I took the nest home. At home, I held it to the light and looked more closely. There, to my surprise, nestled into the grey-green sage, was a gnarl of black hair. It was also unmistakable. It was my daughter’s hair, cleaned from a brush and picked up out in the sun beneath the maple tree, or the pit cherry where birds eat from the overladen, fertile branches until only the seeds remain on the trees". (pp. 123-124)
Life is a sharing, a giving and taking. Our discards make the stuff of others' homes;and their homes make the stuff of our dreams. And it all happens best in the spaces where people and nature can thrive in the presence of each other.
Yi-Fu Tuan is a pre-eminent geologist and philosopher, someone Thomas Berry might have called a "geologian". In a work on "Rootedness," Tuan wrote the following about creating a sense of place and a sense of belonging:
“It is not always durability of place but the need to constantly remake it that unites folks and maintains the sacredness of the place. Consider the Mbona cult of southern Malawi and the adjacent areas of Mozambique. The shrine at the cult center is a hut made of highly perishable material. It has to be rebuilt on the average once every five years. What unifies the far-flung members of the Mbona cult and gives the cult center its special aura is not the shrine but the act of building it – not so much the final material product as the cooperative effort and gesture.”
Most of us are no longer tribal peoples living in places with such powerful traditions. But that does not mean we are bereft of our own ways of creating a sense of belonging, a new sense of home. Even - and perhaps especially - in our highly mobile societies, we need to find ways to jumpstart a sense of connection and rootedness.
Planting and tending neighborhood orchards can offer that sense of place. Those who work the orchard together create a sense of purposeful togetherness. Those who witness the orchard in their neighborhood begin to believe in the specialness of their place; and all those who take part in the sharing and consuming of the fruit know there is a blessed bond between them.