Here are some examples of community orchards that I have come across. They are all in Britain.
They are becoming more and more common as concern grows about food security and climate change. Clearly there is a need for everyone to be able to benefit from local food - not just the wealthy and landed classes!
Picture: A fine mature orchard at Levens Hall, Cumbria
The Millennium Orchard, Beverley in Yorkshire, UK was organised by the Women's Institute to celebrate the millennium. This is perhaps one of the best developed fruit tree orchards with community involvement in the UK. It includes a wide range of fruit trees and has received a grant of £25,000 to improve accessibility. The WI pick and use the fruit for traditional bottling and sell produce at events. There is a lot of involvement from different local groups such as the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and nesting boxes for owls have been put up.
There are sheltering belts of native trees such as rowan and hawthorn which help the diversity of the habitat for wildlife. The orchard has a range of northern varieties of apples. East Riding Council provided the land and the WI was helped by local fruit experts in the choice and management of the fruit trees. Some of the varieties they planted have intriguing names: Yorkshire Aromatic, Keswick Codling, Cockpit, Hornsea Herring, Dogsnout and Bloody Ploughman to name a few. The last was supposedly named after an unfortunate ploughman who was caught "scrumping" and was shot by the gamekeeper!
Chinbrook Community Orchard is in Lewisham, London. Lewisham Council's nature conservation section, worked with allotment holders and a permaculture group to create an orchard and nature reserve on some unused allotment land.
A grant from the Urban Programme paid for the trees and local school children helped out with planting. There are now plans to list the site for its contribution to biodiversity. Many of the allotment holders were instrumental in setting up and running the project. You can find Chinbrook orchard and other London orchards to visit here.
Over in Hackney, East London, there is an ambitious programme of events, tree planting and maintenance with plenty of side branches and tree-oriented puns! The volunteers who care for some of the trees call themselves the "Tree Musketeers" - (much better than the original name of Hackney Tree Wardens!)
One aim is to bring a range of locally grown fruit trees to the parks and gardens of Hackney. This should enable people to benefit from an abundant supply of free fruit.
There is a tree nursery on Hackney marshes - (a local open space with a river running through it) and there is involvement from the Growing Communities team who also helped plant a community orchard at Butterfield Green. There they have planted a wide range of native species along with all kinds of orchard and garden fruits. There are seating areas made of natural wood by a local artisan.
The Tree Musketeers have several useful leaflets you can download about tree care. According to them, young trees generally need three to five years of care after planting before they are independent. There's info on staking and tree guards and even odd nuggets such as that Staffordshire terriers are a particular nuisance when it comes to damaging young trees in parks!
Here in Suffolk the Maidenhall Allotments host a community garden initiative (The People's Community Garden) which has just secured funding for a small orchard.
To kick things off they hosted an open day where volunteers helped plant lots of local varieties of apple trees. This was part of a varied programme of events and entertainment. They now run skills workshops regularly for the local community and are developing an amazing bee garden, too.
There is now also a community fruit tree orchard and forest garden being started by local Transition Towns people from Ipswich area along side the original one at Maidenhall. We now have around 20 fine trees, including nine standard sized apples and pears. We are running it along Permaculture lines, using orchard mix seeds to promote fertility and different layers of vegetation to maximise yields.
We hope it will become a successful forest garden which will help inspire others to do similar things.
Here are some useful books to help you if you want to learn about setting up a community orchard.
Community Orchards Handbook information on how to establish a community orchard.
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