The Daily Dirt

Fruit trees make healthy people, healthy communities

A bounty of plums from an urban orchard.

A bounty of plums from an urban orchard.

This piece by Robby Astrove first appeared in the Georgia Urban Forestry Council‘s Fall Tree Talks newsletter. 

Simply stated, “trees are the answer” for many environmental, social, and economic problems. There’s even a bumper sticker to prove it. Shade, clean air, clean water, habitat, increased property value, crime reduction, emotional well-being, and improving overall quality of life are just a few benefits that are most familiar. This list is very much the jargon and justification of our industry.

For some reason, eating, or nutrition, or just ”food,” rarely gets talked about. Why is this? Yet every human eats, thus creating a direct and personal relationship to trees. It is this very connection that leads us to better understand, value, advocate, and ultimately act (behavior change) in support of trees and forests. Food for thought?

Yes, do give fruit trees serious consideration for enhancing the impact of your next planting project, understanding they provide a meaningful way to connect people and trees. In Georgia, where our agricultural heritage is paramount, fruit trees really make sense and might be a tipping point for more people to value and plant trees. Hungry for more?

astrove2Fruit trees capture all of the benefits of trees we know and love plus provide ‘answers’ to the increasing and ever so serious childhood obesity epidemic. Fruit trees improve access to fresh and healthy foods supplying nutrients, vitamins, minerals to people of all ages. Orchards increase food security in “food deserts,” places where there is no
access to fresh and healthy food.

Fruit trees belong in communities where people live and improve health and resiliency. Fruits can be instrumental in bringing the community together, especially at planting and harvest time. With all the bounty and abundance that comes naturally to fruit trees, orchards and green jobs are a natural fit and create economic and entrepreneurial opportunities as well. Fruit trees provide so much more than just a delicious harvest; it’s a broader package of economic redevelopment, health and wellness, and beautification to say the least.

Fact: Fruit trees are the best long-term, most sustainable and low maintenance form of agriculture. Fruit trees equate to decades of fruit production. What an incredible return on investment, yet why aren’t we seeing more of the tree community embrace fruit trees and the planting of orchards?

Municipalities who manage public parks and urban forests cite the messy fruit droppings as a prime issue, or the rats they attract, and they require lots of chemicals, and perhaps municipal park departments lack the training and expertise to care for fruit trees.

Provided are case studies, best practices, and awareness that orchards are happening in the public realm without chemicals and are successful thriving projects.

Selecting Species
Always select a species and variety from a local nursery that is appropriate for our climate. Be mindful about pollination requirements and, when possible, select disease resistant varieties. In Georgia, we are blessed with geographic and climactic diversity, so that means we have a large palette to choose from.

Right tree, Right place: Community Gardens
Looking to start your first orchard? Planting fruit trees where there is already public food growing is a good place to start. Community gardens, and the folks who grow there already, understand food systems and have a vested interest and stewardship responsibility of the space. At Brownwood Park in East Atlanta you will find a diversity of berry bushes, vines, and an orchard with apples, figs, plums and more interesting trees like pomegranates, paw-paws, loquat, serviceberries, and persimmons that produce from May through November. After school and community groups help provide care, and children are learning the value of trees and where real food comes from.

Gardeners and plot owners are more inclined to harvest and use fruit as to eliminate the “problem” of waste falling to the ground. We’ll just eat our way out of this perceived problem.

Concrete Jungle foraging group at work

Concrete Jungle foraging group at work

Concrete Jungle, Atlanta’s urban fruit tree foragers
Speaking of waste, Concrete Jungle has rescued and redistributed over 14,000 pounds of fruit that would otherwise fall to the ground and rot. Working with a group like this IS the solution to that messy sidewalk, rodents, and other complaints that may arise with fruit plantings. They also provide educational workshops and mulch, water, and prune trees. Municipalities can create partnerships with foraging groups to provide public education and park stewardship.

Concrete Jungle has a database of over 1200 trees, many of which are public, neglected, and not under any managed care (no pruning, no spraying, no fertilizer) yet they produce abundantly! This is proof that chemicals and aggressive care is not required for results as many proclaim.

If there is one thing needed for fruit trees it is pruning. Pruning develops strong scaffold branches to support the forthcoming heavy load of fruit. Pruning also allows for more sun to reach the interior of the tree which increases production and helps to minimize moisture that can led to disease. Prune to remove dead, dying, and broken branches. Prune at the end of winter for best results always using sharp and clean tools.

Small, Slow, and Simple
Do your homework and get familiar with fruit trees. Start small and select low maintenance/ disease resistant varieties suitable for our southern climate. If I had to recommend 3 trees to start with, they would be serviceberry, fig, and persimmon. All are very tough and tolerant to urban conditions and drought; two of them are native, always a plus, and they spread the harvest from May to November with figs sometimes producing a summer and fall crop.

Learn more about fruit trees!
Attend the annual GUFC conference and attend Keep Georgia Beautiful’s session on Urban Orchards to learn more about fruit trees. More information can be gained by connecting with Concrete Jungle, Atlanta Local Food Initiative and the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation.

Robby Astrove is an arborist and environmental educator with DeKalb County Natural Resource Management Office. He serves on the advisory board for the Atlanta Local Food Initiative, East Atlanta Farmers Market, and instructs workshops regarding edible landscape design, fruit trees and orchards. GUFC recognized Robby as the Individual Achievement Grand Award winner in 2011 for his work with fruit trees and community forestry education.

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