DelVal students help plant fruit trees in Philadelphia

Nov 12, 2011

What was once a vacant lot is now a small orchard that will provide fruit for a community in Philadelphia where affordable, fresh fruit is hard to find.

On Saturday, Nov. 12, eight students from two DelVal clubs, Oxfam and IMPACT, took the train to Philadelphia to volunteer with The Philadelphia Orchard Project.

Oxfam works to battle poverty, hunger, social injustice and other global problems. IMPACT is a nondenominational spiritual club.

The students helped weed to make room for new plants, dug holes for trees, planted trees and spent a day working along side people from various organizations in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Orchard project helped create the community garden in a lot across the street from Temple Presbyterian Church. The site is within a short walk from Temple University.

Presbytery of Philadelphia, The Women’s Community Project and Temple Presbyterian Church sponsored the project.

Members of the Philadelphia Orchard Project came to help with the design, planting and maintenance training.

The Rev. Dr. Valeria G. Harvell, pastor of Temple Presbyterian Church, said that the fruit trees will produce fruit such as apples and pears for the community.

She said that when the Eastern North Philadelphia Coalition surveyed residents to find out what they wanted a few years ago, the number one request was affordable housing. The number two request was green space.

Dr. Harvell wanted to help give people in her area beautiful spaces to enjoy.

The church owned a small lot across the street, so, she decided to start there.

It will be years before the orchard produces fruit, but she expects that in the future the orchard will be “a beautiful thing for the community.”

“The hope is that it will grow so big that we can start a farmer’s market,” Dr. Harvell said.

Participating DelVal students included: senior Stephanie Walton, a small animal science major, junior Janelle Wommer, a zoo science major, sophomore Bathilda  Lake, a small animal science major, sophomore Katie Ellis, a wildlife management and conservation major, junior Caitlin Kenney, a wildlife management and conservation major, freshman Tommy Diffendal, an agriculture education major, freshman Jade Orth, a wildlife conservation and management major  and sophomore Alex Heigh, an environmental design major.

Janelle Wommer said she found out about the project by reading a magazine article on community gardens. Students from DelVal were eager to spend a day volunteering.

The orchard includes: apple, pear, goumi and cherry trees, perennials that attract pollinators, gooseberries and more.

The food will go directly to the church and the community.

Nora Lichtash, executive director of The Women’s Community Revitalization Project, an organization that helped with the orchard, said the area has a big problem with vacant land.

A November 2010 report prepared by Econsult for The Redevelopment Authority of Philadelphia put the number of vacant lots at 40,000.

“That creates blight,” said Lichtash.  “People really need fresh, affordable food, the neighborhood is what is called a food desert (an area where affordable healthy, fresh fruit is hard to find).”

Unmaintained lots often become ugly places where people dump items illegally. They also contribute to problems with crime.

In November 2011, NBC reported that an 18-year-old woman was raped in a vacant garage in Philadelphia.

Efforts to find uses for and maintain the lots around the city do a lot to improve the lives of residents by making areas safer and more beautiful.

It will be a few years before the trees begin to produce fruit, but the community hopes to have vegetables next summer.

“It’s a really good partnership.” said Lichtash.

Lichtash said the lot where the new orchard is was vacant for more than 30 years.

The church had been taking care of the lot and wanted to take that stewardship further by putting it to use.

“I liked it a lot,” said DelVal student Bathilda Lake of the trip. “It was interesting to see how different it is in Philadelphia compared to DelVal and to see the community and the church.”

She said she definitely wants to participate again and might try to help out next year.

“I think the project is really pertinent to our majors,” said Lake. “ It’s really interesting to see how people plant things. It would be really neat to go back next year to see how much it grew.”

She thinks the fresh, local, fruit will help the community.

“I think The Philadelphia Orchard Project is doing a great thing,” said Lake. “In the city it’s hard to find fresh fruit…Even if you have a little community garden on a street corner in Philadelphia it goes a long way.”

For more photos of the students please visit DelVal's Facebook page.