Five years ago, staff and volunteers from the Penn community began to transform a stretch of Penn Park into an orchard. With initial plantings of fig, plum, and pear trees and blueberry, quince, and elderberry shrubs, the vision was to create a productive and sustainable edible landscape out of a formerly unused swathe along the train tracks.
Now, that space is replete with dozens of species of food plants, from the Concord grape to the champagne raspberry, from native pawpaw and persimmon trees to an array of medicinal and culinary herbs, including hyssop, catmint, and chives.
Supported by the Division of Facilities and Real Estate Services (FRES), the orchard represents a “functioning food forest,” with layers of edible plants that support insects, birds, people—and an occasional pesky groundhog. By raising awareness of the importance of local foods and sustainable landscape-management practices, its existence supports the tenets of the new Climate and Sustainability Action Plan 3.0. Those responsible for its planning and care, such as Olivia Bridges, a senior from Highland Park, New Jersey, who is this year’s Penn Park Orchard outreach intern, see its effects rippling out into the broader community.
“We want to engage the community at Penn and people beyond Penn so they see that growing food in a city can be a sustainable, feasible thing,” says Bridges. To that end, she has been working to develop partnerships with organizations citywide that promote healthy eating and urban agriculture. And joining with campus organizations, she and FRES staff have also coordinated a number of events to bring more people to the orchard to contribute their efforts to its success—and maybe enjoy a little nibble of fig or raspberry as they work.
A workday under the brilliant October sun brought together staff from the Stuart Weitzman School of Design, undergraduate and graduate students, and staff from the Philadelphia Orchard Project, the organization that plans and maintains the Penn Park Orchard, as well as dozens more around the city.