Philly Orchard Project Gets Anonymous $100K Grant

Donation will let hundreds of fruit trees bloom on empty lots all over the city, with a special focus on low-income communities.

Philly Orchard Project Facebook.

Philly Orchard Project Facebook.

A latter-day Johnny Appleseed has just given a citywide community orchard program a huge chunk of, ahem, seed money to help it create green infrastructure in neighborhoods that could use some all over Philadelphia.

The $100,000, five-year grant from an anonymous donor to the Philadelphia Orchard Project (POP) marks two milestones for the 7-year-old organization: the planting of its 1,000th fruit tree and the creation of its 50th neighborhood orchard, both of which took place during 2015.

POP currently supports 58 neighborhood orchards, 38 of which it planted in partnership with local civic, nonprofit, charitable and service groups in neighborhoods across the city. The bulk of the orchards are located in North and West Philadelphia. In addition to planting 1,021 fruit trees to date, POP has also planted 1,864 shrubs and vines and 11,596 perennial plants since its launch.

“We see these orchards as multifunctional green infrastructure,” said POP executive director Phil Forsyth. “In addition to providing fresh food, we see them as providing opportunities to connect neighborhoods and residents to the food system, to provide educational opportunities, and to provide opportunities for urban enterprise through agricultural entrepreneurship programs.

“We also see them as a double carbon offset. The trees absorb carbon dioxide, and the fruit they provide also reduces food miles by making fresh food available right in the community.”

If this sounds familiar, it is: POP was founded by activist Paul Glover, who is now pursuing a more ambitious orchard-based community development project in the Logan neighborhood. “Paul is no longer directly involved with POP, but he comes out to our events and supports us,” Forsyth said.

The donation is being made to a new entity called the Pomona Fund, named for the Roman goddess of fruit trees, gardens and orchards. “The Pomona Fund honors the legendary goddess Pomona, whose golden apples provided a long and healthy life. The Pomona Fund will likewise help POP sustain the healthy growth of its many orchards for years to come,” Forsyth said in a news release.

The Pomona Fund grant is spread out over five years, providing $20,000 per year to the organization. Forsyth said the money will help the organization provide additional support resources to its community partners, such as a tool library, and will help it meet its goal of planting six new community orchards a year.

“One of the advantages of orchards over vegetable gardens as green infrastructure is permanence,” Forsyth said. “The trees can last as long as a century, and they produce hundreds of pounds of fruit each year as well as reduce stormwater runoff. We see them as permanent parts of the city infrastructure.”

The Pomona Fund will also match individual contributions to POP’s annual fundraising appeal dollar for dollar, up to $20,000. The appeal begins on Giving Tuesday — tomorrow, December 1st. Donations can be made via the link on the POP website.

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