The Philadelphia Orchard Project was founded in 2007 with a mission to plant and support community orchards in the city of Philadelphia, improving access to nutritious food and creating beautiful and bountiful green spaces. Orchards, primarily located in low-wealth neighborhoods, are owned, maintained, and harvested by the community. POP orchards contain a variety of fruit and nut trees, berry bushes and vines, herbs, pollinator gardens, and other useful and edible perennials. Follow POP on Facebook @PhiladelphiaOrchardProject, or on Instagram and Twitter @phillyorchards.
In 2020, POP staff and volunteers established the POP Learning Orchard at The Woodlands and other infrastructure at POP’s new headquarters. Through weekly work days held from spring through fall, a small team of POP staff, interns, and dedicated Lead Orchard Volunteers helped plant, maintain, harvest, and distribute produce from this new one-acre orchard space. Over the course of the year, the Learning Orchard team helped to plant 90 fruit and nut trees; 156 berry bushes, shrubs and fruiting vines; and 410 perennial flowers and herbs. The orchard contains both native and heirloom plants, restoring a small piece of the historic edible landscape of both William Hamilton and earlier Lenni-Lenape land stewards. The space is designed for education, inspiration, and engagement with the environment and will serve as a vital education hub for sharing best practices in ecological orchard care with POP community partners, volunteers, and the general public. The POP Learning Orchard will also serve a vital function as a space to try out new plants and techniques and train new interns, apprentices, and volunteers.
Given the economic impact of the pandemic and heightened community need for emergency food access, POP quickly shifted spring plans to focus on growing as many vegetables for donation as possible which would be ready for harvest this year. The Learning Orchard team interplanted a wide variety of annual crops between the young fruit trees and berry bushes; the trees will take some years to mature, while the berry bushes should start producing fruit next year, but the immense need demanded a quicker response. Despite numerous growing challenges from deer to squirrels to vine borers, the team grew and donated over 1400 pounds of fresh produce to families in need via local distribution partners Food Not Bombs and Bunnyhop. In addition to produce grown for donation, POP collaborated with True Love Seeds in growing and saving heirloom seed varieties.