Summer’s hearty harvest at the Penn Park Orchard

Since its inception in 2014, the Penn Park Orchard has evolved into a true “food forest.” A wide variety of fruit trees, shrubs, and perennials line the southernmost edge of Penn Park, beyond the tennis courts and alongside the railroad tracks. The Orchard boasts strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, goji berries, peaches, apricots, and currants—and that’s just what’s in season right now.

“We already have an urban canopy and urban forest at Penn,” says Robert Lundgren, the University landscape architect within Facilities and Real Estate Services. “This has been one more chapter in making our campus a little bit more rich.”

The Orchard, which has been expanded twice since its inception, with special help from the Philadelphia Orchard Project, is due for a significant harvest this year, says Lundgren.

“Some of what we planted can take several years to mature,” he explains. “Last year we had somewhat of a limited harvest, but this year we’re seeing a lot more, and next year we’ll see more, too. In 10 years, I suspect we’ll have quite a different animal.”

In an effort to increase exposure of the Orchard, a number of events have been planned, under the leadership of Chloe Cerwinka, Penn’s landscape planner, for the coming months. On Thursday, July 27, for instance, stop by from 6 to 7 p.m. for “Peaches and Poetry,” where participants enjoy fresh peaches while reading and listening to spoken word.

On Friday, Aug. 4, and Saturday, Sept. 2, those interested in picking fruits with a group can attend a “U-Pick-nic” from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Recipes will be on hand for those looking to mix the ripening fruits into their dishes.

On Thursday, Aug. 17, stop by the Orchard from 6 to 7 p.m. for an outdoor yoga session. Participants are asked to bring their own mats and water. A September date is also being planned.

For those wanting to get their hands dirty, public workdays in the Orchard are set for every fourth Wednesday through the growing season. Registration is available on the Philadelphia Orchard Project’s website. Remaining workdays on the schedule include Wednesday, Aug. 30, and Wednesday, Sept. 27.

The Orchard is open to anyone, at any time. It’s all about raising awareness that it is entirely possible to grow fruit in an urban environment, “and it’s relatively simple, too,” Lundgren says.

Penn also has a community garden, mainly full of vegetables and managed by students (it began as a Green Fund Project), near 39th Street and Locust Walk. Lundgren says there are plans to move the garden to a sunnier and larger space in the coming year or so.

Lundgren notes that aside from the Orchard and the garden, there are numerous edible plantings embedded throughout campus. For instance, near the School of Veterinary Medicine, community members can find figs, persimmons, pawpaws, and kiwis.

“We’re trying to make these little places across campus, so they’re even more available to people,” Lundgren says.

When it comes to Ivy League universities, Lundgren says Penn’s campus and its agricultural makeup is unique, and with that distinctiveness comes a responsibility to use it as “a means for learning, education, and nutrition.

“And now,” he adds, “we’re seeing the Orchard turn into much more than just trees. It’s becoming a place for research, a place where you can reflect on food. It’s turning into much more than just an Orchard.”

Penn Park Orchard