By Akilah Roberts and Claire Maxwell
The Atlanta Local Food Initiative (ALFI) began its Orchard Project in 2010 with the inaugural planting at Burgess Peterson Academy in East Atlanta. The ALFI Orchard Project installs edible school and community orchards that aim to feed, teach, and inspire. The project has planted 21 orchards that provide direct access to local food while improving Atlanta’s landscape. These teaching orchards connect students, teachers, and Atlanta residents to the local food movement, and organizations collaborate to make sure the orchards receive proper care and maintenance.
We had the opportunity to take a tour of four of the Orchard Project sites with Robby Astrove, ALFI member and fruit tree expert who has lead the initiative to plant and maintain these orchards all over the city. While visiting Burgess Peterson Academy, Alonzo Crim Open Campus High School, Fire Station #10 in Grant Park, and Wesley International Academy, we were able to see how planting fruit trees ensures public food access and sustainability for decades.
In order to qualify for an orchard, sites should have an existing garden maintained by dedicated teachers or caretakers, and as we moved from site to site, Astrove mentioned the importance of planting the orchards close to where food is served. At school sites, teachers are expected to attend farm to school trainings so they can regularly involve kids with the orchard and incorporate their hands-on experiences into the curriculum.
We also got to see the value and functionality of planting trees at other sites. The apple tree planted in front of Fire Station #10 served the firemen directly—baking is one of their favorite communal activities. The other fruit trees planted in the yard along the sidewalk are a resource for the public to directly access.
The orchards build the community by allowing Atlanta residents to collectively learn how to maintain and use fruit trees, but they also provide a sense of ownership, which is especially important for kids and young adults.
The trees are tied closely with farm to school—they allow students to learn about agriculture directly and taste the fruit they are growing right outside their classrooms. Burgess Peterson Academy, for example, makes smoothies using fruit from their orchard. Students who plant trees at a young age can watch them grow while they’re in school, and these students also acquire skills that will stick with them and inspire them to plant and maintain their own trees. And because teachers and students are educated together, they form a connection which further fosters that sense of community, ownership, and activism.
Maintaining these orchards and gardens also grows community partnerships. When we visited Wesleyan International Academy, we happened to run into members of HABESHA, who were beginning a garden project in the school’s courtyard right next to some of the trees ALFI had previously planted. How cool is that?
Ultimately, Astrove and ALFI believe planting these trees in schools and community spaces is a solution to Atlanta’s economic, social, and environmental issues because of the trees’ longevity and ability to provide direct public access to food. Whether the trees are fostering community, developing partnerships, or providing a sense of ownership for those growing them, they are without a doubt a direct source for fresh and local food for the entire community of Atlanta to enjoy.
ALFI seeks to build a local food system that enhances human health, promotes environmental renewal, fosters local economies, and links rural and urban communities. If you’re interested in becoming an Orchard Project recipient, take a look at the criteria at ALFI’s website!