Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Food Grows on Trees - Even in the City

All of the below is lifted from a recycling listserv that I'm on.

"Watch your step!

All around the Boston area, food is falling on the ground, rolling around on the sidewalks and streets -- and generally being treated with disdain...(who would expect food to grow on trees?)

Our native Black Walnut trees and Shagbark Hickory trees are well into dropping their fruit. They look like small green tennis balls; they turn dark as they mature and get easier to open -- a source of food for Native Americans, and said to be quite tasty, although that may vary from tree to tree.

There are also apple trees of all sorts in our yards bearing fruit; some are already finishing up. And peaches!

So, look around. Do you know of any organized efforts to harvest this bounty and keep it from going to waste?

(We've already collected over 20 pounds of apples and peaches just from what is laying around on the ground -- will have to start earlier next year!)

Black Walnut husks are also a traditional dye for hair, handicrafts etc --
the plentiful juice from the green husks certainly does a good job staining skin!


Fruit for the People:
Moss Hill Orchard
by Susan Koechner

Edible Boston, Summer 2008, p.55

On a crisp, late spring day in Jamaica Plain, a small group of neighbors gather around a young man as his rough hands tenderly pack straw around the base of a freshly planted cherry tree.The spindly young plant is small, but the neighbors’ appetites are not: “I’m putting in my order for a cherry pie right now!” one man declares with a twinkle in his eye.

These residents of Jamaica Plain’s Moss Hill neighbor- hood have reason to be licking their lips in anticipation of a delicious fruit harvest.They are participants in an innovative grassroots project, led by resident Margaret Connors, to establish a communal orchard in their neighborhood. Unlike a conventional orchard with a dedicated plot of land, this one will consist of fruit-bearing trees planted on the homeowners’ private lots as well as in nearby public spaces such as the Manning Elementary School.

As co-director of the Neighborhood Pesticide Action Committee (www.npacboston.org), Margaret is no stranger to communal environmental efforts. “We have to consider our communities as much more than the sum of their dwellings,” she says. “Neighborhoods are resource-rich and can be mobilized to initiate solutions to many urgent environmental challenges, including global warming. Planting a neighborhood orchard is making the best use of the collective good earth in a community. A communal orchard, a neighborhood bee keeping project,backyard city chickens—such efforts are only the beginning.”

Debbie Side, the owner of a new cherry tree planted in her front yard, expresses the spirit of the project. “I can’t use more than a basketful of cherries,” she says, gesturing to the tree with her hands covered in fresh dirt. “I’ll be happy if my neighbors come by to pick them; otherwise, the fruit would just rot. This way, anybody walking by can access it.” With the cherry and two raspberry bushes
that will be planted in her side lot, Debbie’s yardlots are bound to be popular at harvest time.

On this day, more than 30 new trees and shrubs will sink their roots into fertile nooks and crannies around the neighborhood. They include conventional fruiting trees
such as apples, cherries and peaches, as well as berries such as blueberry, raspberry and juneberry. In addition, fallowland along a public footpath will be planted with berries, hickory trees and other New England forest natives to
revive the diversity and beauty that was threatened by development.

A host of fruit, nut and berry plants that are uniquely suited to our variable New England climate can turn almost any small lot into a cornucopia of fresh, sun-ripened
foods.This is exactly what Margaret Connors envisioned when she started laying out the plan for her neighborhood’s orchard. “The idea just sort of came to me,” she
said of the project, which has few precedents. “I’d heard of Earthworks’ Setback Tree program and imagined our neighborhood with fruiting trees accessible to all the
neighbors. Earthworks reclaims neglected urban spaces for sustainable use through hands-on projects, education, and advocacy. I figured that with people out picking fruit for six months of the year, there would be a lots of activity
in the neighborhood, and we would be more likely to watch out for each other.”

Historically, the area in and around Moss Hill was home to a number of prominent wool merchants and ambassadors who built large estates, each of which included sizable orchards. Longtime resident Dorothy Meyer remembers, “Back in the ’30s and ’40s, the kids of the neighborhood used to play on those hills and we’d come down with apples in our pockets. It was very rural back then.” Some Moss Hill residents suspect that their homes sit on land that was once part of an orchard owned by Jabez and Lucretia Lewis-Dawson; their homestead, the Lewis-Dawson Farmhouse, dates back to the early 1800s and was recently granted landmark status by the Boston Landmark Commission.

Once Margaret had gauged the neighbors’ interest in the orchard project, (“They wanted to be a part of it, no questions asked.”) she got to work. She secured the help of two local organizations: the previously mentioned Earthworks and JPTrees, which works to renew the urban canopy in Jamaica Plain through stewardship and advo-
cacy for community trees.

First, the participants needed to perform site evaluations with the help of Earthworks. Most important, they had to consider how many hours of sunlight a plant
would receive. While berry bushes can produce in shady spots, fruiting trees require a minimum of six hours of sunlight per day to flourish. Next, they conducted simple
soil tests through University of Massachusetts’ Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Laboratory to determine the soil quality including acidity, texture, drainage, fertility and presence of toxic metals. This information helped Earthworks recommend plants which would thrive in the available spaces.

Then came the fun part: plant selection. Steve Larson was one of many who decided on an apple tree. “I like apples,” he said. “Also, because I’m new in the neighbor-
hood, I thought that this would be a good way to meet people.” Because multiple species can be grafted onto a single rootstock, those who choose apples will enjoy harvesting different kinds of apples from a single tree. Other recommended fruit and nut-bearing plants included cherries, pears, plums, peaches, apricots, persimmon, pawpaw, mulberries, blueberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries, juneberries, hazelnuts, walnuts, hickories and chestnuts.

At long last, the day of planting, May 17th, arrived. On hand to help plant and provide education were Ben Crouch, Urban Forestry Program Director of Earthworks,
and Melissa Moore, an Earthworks-trained volunteer of JP Trees. After a brief introduction, a group of about 15 neighbors, young and old, picked up their tools and
marched energetically off to the first planting site.

Ben held onto the small bare cherry tree, just six feet tall, as he demonstrated the complete planting process. “Most fruit trees will grow in almost anything except
highly disturbed soil,” he noted while turning over the turf with a tock, a garden tool that resembles a pick. He dug a hole for the tree’s bare roots and explained that while the tree would not grow much in the first year, they could expect growth of two to three feet per year until maturity. Amazingly, fruit would become available in only two or three years from planting..."

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