Grounds for Change: Activating Vacant Land

Resources / Action Blog

Theme: Urban Orchards

Posted by: amy on July 08, 2011

Image credit: Alliance for Community Trees

Much is made of the growing popularity of vegetable farms in formerly vacant urban lots, but how about orchards? Fruit trees require a somewhat longer-term investment than chard and peppers, but are just as important a contribution to urban food security and educating communities about fresh produce and agricultural production.

Chicago Rarities Orchard Project (CROP) is an organization dedicated to returning rare fruit breeds to popularity by planting orchards throughout the city of Chicago. CROP's current endeavors center around their proposal for a rare fruit orchard on a long-vacant portion of Logan Square. The group has been grafting and growing saplings and holding public meetings with the city for the past year and a half--the most recent meeting took place April 27--and continues to raise money for the project. Click here to visit CROP's website; here to read an interview with CROP board member Megan Larmer on the Huffington Post. Follow Chicago Rarities on Facebook here.

As CROP continues its slow progress, Grounds For Change takes a look at some other urban orchard projects across the United States that have experienced varying degress of success throughout their time in operation.

The Philadelphia Orchard Project (Philadelphia, PA)

The Philadelphia Orchard Project's declared mission is To plan orchards in the city of Philadelphia that grow healthy food, green spaces and community food security.

POP works with community-based groups and volunteers to plan and plant orchards filled with useful and edible plants. POP provides the plants, trees, and training. Community organizations own, maintain, and harvest the orchards, expanding community-based food production. Orchards are planted in formerly vacant lots, community gardens, schoolyards, and other spaces, almost exclusively in low-wealth neighborhoods where people lack access to fresh fruit.

POP's orchards--both planted and proposed--are charted here and on a Google Map.

Westside Community Action Network Center (Kansas City, MO)

Kansas City's Westside Community Action Network Center was one of several local beneficiaries of volunteer labor as nearly 200 students gathered to help plant a 136-tree orchard in KC's West Side neighborhood last month.  The orchard is maintained by volunteers from several local community organizations; calls for Water Brigade volunteers are regularly posted on the Center's Facebook page. Click here for a slideshow of the planting process.

TreeFolks (Austin, TX)

TreeFolks, an Austin-based tree planting organization, operates a wide-ranging Urban Orchard Project with the support of just four employees. TreeFolks works with community groups--from schools to churches to residents of public housing projects--to plan and build small orchards in shared green spaces. TreeFolks' assistance further extends to "reintroduc[ing] this valuable knowledge to ordinary people by planting groves of locally adapted fruit and nut trees and to use those trees as a platform to teach people how to grow fresh fruit using healthy, organic methods."

Click to read more about The Urban Orchard Project and other programs from TreeFolks.

San Francisco Urban Orchards Project

Also known as the San Francisco Urban Gleaning Project, this program of the San Francisco Carbon Fund emphasizes the dual benefits of urban orchards as CO2 pollution reducers and sources of fresh produce. Program organizers focus particularly on low-income families and neighborhoods as they select privately and publicly owned land on which to establish orchards. Click here to learn more about the project, including contact information for the program coordinator. The project also falls under the purview of the city's Urban Forestry Council.


Boston's long-running urban orchards and environmental education organization recently filed for corporate dissolution. Thanks to a paucity of financial resources, Earthworks was forced to temporarily end operations while its board passed along orchard stewardship, curriculum use, and other resources and responsibilities to a larger network of local community groups and environmental organizations spearheaded by Boston Cares and the Boston Natural Areas Network. Earthworks' dissolution was effective March 10, 2011; it remains to be seen whether the project will succeed in its new form as a city-wide network.

Image credit: Alliance for Community Trees