There’s a kind of vertical farming bearing fruit in cities all over the world, and it’s a little more grounded than proposals for skyscraper greenhouses. I’m talking about the original vertical farm: the urban orchard. Many cities strive to incorporate green space and trees, and orchards provide a one-two punch when it comes to greening-up urban environments.
Over the past 20 years or so, urban orchards have been cropping up in empty lots, schoolyards, parks, and public sidewalks. Like urban gardens, urban orchards create an edible landscape and promote community. In successful scenarios, urban orchard organizations provide the plants and the expertise to local community-based organizations that eventually manage the fruit and nut trees. This passing of the baton is a sustainable model, extending knowledge of growing and maintaining fruit trees while drawing diverse groups of people to a shared purpose and sense of ownership.
Some of the most successful examples of urban orchards are within the U.S., in cities like Boston, L.A., Austin, and Philadelphia. But this is really a global trend. The success of a recent apple orchard pilot project in a low-income neighborhood in Edinburgh, Scotland has inspired the development of similar orchards throughout the city. An urban orchard project in Southern Australia manifests as a patchwork of households that each manage a few fruit trees in limited yard space and swap fruits through a cooperative. But orchards can also be part of a school garden project, providing cafeterias with fresh, ultra-local apples or peaches or whatever else happens to be native to or productive in a given region.
Orchards can help round out all kinds of urban food security and other community needs. I really can’t think of one reason why we shouldn’t opt to plant fruit and nut bearing trees and shrubs in public spaces, and I think all those rooftop bees that are so eager to pollinate would agree!