I remember being in high school when a friend of mine posed a question that made me ponder about the meaning to life. I apologize if I misquote him it has been a while, he said “why are there so many abandoned lots in Philadelphia. We have all this green space and all these homeless people. If they really wanted to help the poor there would be free food growing all over this city”. At the time I laughed it off because I never believed they would give out free food because it goes against the tenants of capitalism. Fast forward twelve years and I came across an organization who took this common “dorm room” conversation and decided to take action. The organization I am referring to is the Philadelphia Orchard Project
The Philadelphia Orchard Project(POP) started in 2007 by Pennsylvania Green Party Governor Candidate Paul Glover. POP is part of a growing movement across the world to develop more sustainable, equitable, and ethical local food systems. Glover was inspired at the time because of the over 40,000 vacant lots that occupied the city. POP believes community gardens and orchards are the missing link to getting healthy and sustainable foods to all Philadelphia natives.When POP was founded they started with three community orchards and now, twelve years later, they have sixty-four orchards that are maintained by the communities in which they reside. POP offers the educational training and resources while the community maintains the orchards. Through generous donations to their non-profit organization and a dedicated staff POP has been able to grow every year and inch closer to their dream of having free fresh fruit for all in Philadelphia.
Recently My students and I volunteered for POP and were delighted with the activism of the community. We joined them on a monthly harvest day and we helped them collect June-berries. The berries are sent to local food pantries and businesses that help support the community orchards. Volunteers are also encouraged to eat the berries and are encouraged to share the berries with passersby. We had no idea how many fruits are native to Philadelphia and how delicious they are right from the source. In about an hour of volunteering we were able to collectively pick five pounds of berries and received a promise of a June-berry pie from a local neighbor who donated money to our cause in exchange for some berries( usually POP gives the fruit to neighbors for free but the woman insisted). If you’re interested in volunteering with POP check out their website here. Listen to our podcast episode at the top of the page with their Development Director Kim Jordan who started with the organization as a volunteer and now works there full-time! Check out below for the volunteer video we made for POP.