Community Trees, Community Nutrition: Urban Forestry and Neighborhood Food Security

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Community Trees, Community Nutrition: Urban Forestry and Neighborhood Food Security

Leland Milstein, Alliance for Community Trees

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Popular demand for planting fruit and nut trees has surged in cities across the country in the last few years, and local organizations are taking advantage of this new public interest in trees. Fruit trees can pose challenges for urban forest managers, but they also represent an enormous opportunity for creating healthier, greener communities. This panel will discuss the benefits and obstacles of urban fruit trees, and present successful models of growing community food forests.

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  • ACTrees was founded to help support local efforts to bring these benefits of trees to communities nationwide. Our network includes hundreds of organizations that are working to plant trees in towns and cities. This includes grassroots community groups, nonprofit organizations, municipal government departments, statewide agencies, and more, in cities large and small, from coast to coast and all in between
  • We support local urban forestry efforts through grants, training, technical support, networking, and education.
  • In terms of public health, one of greatest challenges that our country is facing is, believe it or not, hunger. An unbelievable proportion of the US population is hungry – doesn’t have enough food to eat, or can’t access or cant afford enough healthful food.
  • If those percentages sound low, the numbers are highAnd it’s not just relegated to a certain segment of the population, or a certain geographic location, or a certain kind of person. Young and old, urban and rural, all ethnicities—there is food insecurity in every county in America, in every state.It’s obvious that Nutrition is critical for health life – for healthy development and growth, fighting illness, obesity, mental health, physical fitness, for maternal health and baby’s early development.Access to good high-quality food is critical for healthy life, healthy people, healthy communities.My organization is dedicated to improving the health and livability of neighborhoods through trees. Looking at this huge problem in American life, we realized that we as urban foresters have a role to play in solving this enormous health issue. And the answer is simple: it’s trees. Specifically fruit and nut trees.Most famous tree in the world? Not real, but metaphorical: tree of life. Fruit of this tree provides humans with life. Central to pretty much every religion all around the world. Trees as food source, source of human sustenance, goes back to dawn of civilization.
  • Forget mitigating stormwater runoff or carbon sequestration– one of the oldest uses and benefits of trees for humans was food! Fruit and nut trees have supported human nutrition for thousands of years.If communities are struggling with access to nutritious food, let’s put a food source right in the community. Let’s plant fruit and nut trees that provide fresh, local, accessible, affordable, nutritious food, right where people live.Now, it’s simple to say that, but there are a lot of steps to take to get there, a lot of considerations.
  • So my organization wanted to clarify the process and make it easier for people to bring these nutrition benefits of trees to their neighborhoods by starting their own fruit and nut tree orchards.Earlier this year, we launched the Community Groves program. Community Groves is a roadmap for bringing the amazing benefits of fruit and nut trees to any neighborhood. Any local organization or group of resident can use the Community Groves resources to help them plan, implement and maintain a neighborhood grove of food trees for their community.
  • This comes at a time of a huge increase in urban agriculture. Increasingly in the last decade we’ve seen urban agriculture – especially community gardens—take off in popularity and in the public consciousness as solutions for community nutrition challenges. That’s great for providing vegetables – but it’s pretty uncommon for a community garden to include trees. For a long time , fruit and nut trees have been pretty rare in communities—they make up a very very small percentage of the urban forest. Why? Because they take work – someone’s got to harvest all that fruit, or it drops, and rots, and residents complain, and urban forest managers get blamed and yelled by the public and by their bosses. In many places this has been outlawed – cities refused to plant fruit and nut trees, and in some cities it’s illegal to plant fruit trees on public property.  Well, not any more. People want trees. In the last 3 years, we’ve seen an enormous increase in the conversation around urban trees as part of this solution. The concept of permaculture and food forests has been around for a few decades, but the idea of trees as an innovative solution for food access has just blossomed in the public consioucness in the last few years…and in a big way. Even people who are not arborists, not tree lovers, not foodies – just every day folks. People want fruit trees – they want local, easy, convenient, fresh fruit from their yard or the park, or the tree on the street outside their house.SF guerrilla grafting
  • Increasingly, when I hear from nonprofits that do community outreach to plant neighborhood trees, when they ask residents what kind of tree they want planted on their street or in their yard, they’re saying fruit trees.  The good news is that some local organizations—a lot of them members of Alliance for Community Trees—have taken this to heart and have been planting community orchards for the last several years. And so in 2011, ACTrees began researching the current understanding, knowledge base, and practice of planting food-producing trees. We undertook a nationwide investigation into the connections between urban forestry and community agricultureWe found that communities of all sizes and demographics are eager to establish or re-establish fruit and nut tree groves for quality produce. But there has been an extensive knowledge gap about the skills and experience required.  Our research showed that older generations of urban homeowners grew fruit and nut trees and understood their care and harvesting. But with changes in the food system and modern development, this knowledge hasn’t been passed down to new generations. So Community Groves is designed to change that, and reconnect people with their food.
  • The keystone of Community Groves program is our Community Groves Guidebook. This compiles lessons from dozens of urban orchard pilot projects across the country . This resource offers step-by-step guidance for nonprofits, community leaders, and residents to grow their own Community Groves.  It covers issues like site selection, gathering appropriate partners, long-term planning for harvesting and use, soil testing, selecting and sourcing trees, planting trees, care and maintenance, and more. Community Groves also provides some case studies to inspire people as they conceive of their own fruit and nut tree projects.
  • Community Groves also provides some case studies to inspire people as they conceive of their own fruit and nut tree projects. These come from our initial round of Community Groves projects, funded in partnership with the USDA People’s Garden initiative.
  • 30 pilot projects across the country provided insight into the motivations, obstacles, best practices, and methodologies of planting fruit and nut trees in community settings. This is what was distilled into the Community Groves Guidebook, along with lots of other best research, manuals, expert input, and more on this topic.I just want to highlight a few interesting projects, because they give you a sense of the great diversity of approaches and opportunities in creating Community Groves that meet the needs and challenges in your community.
  • A great example of a fairly straight-forward but high-impact urban orchard project is the Community Grove created by the New Jersey Tree Foundation in Camden, NJ, a city that desperately needs all of the innovative solutions it can get. Camden is both the poorest and the most dangerous city in the country, and it is massively food insecure. The entire city is considered a food desert, with nearly 80,000 residents lacking access to healthy food. In light of this, the community gardening strategy has just boomed in the city, with over 100 community gardens and proclaimed by a UPenn study to be the fastest growing community garden city in the country. With support from the Community Groves pilot program, New Jersey Tree Foundation engaged volunteers to plant over a dozen trees at the Cooper Sprouts Community Garden, including apples, pears, cherries and peach trees. The Mayor attended as did leaders of the city’s agriculture and movement. All the fruit is provided free of charge to the community garden members, and any excess is donated to soup kitchens and food banks. Although there are over 100 community gardens in Camden, this was the first to include fruit trees. Now it serves as a model for all the other gardens to incorporate trees into their urban agriculture plan. 
  • In addition to being thoughtful and creative in figuring out partnerships to make your project successful, it’s also important to remain flexible and creative when it comes to site design and planning. Especially when you’re creating Community Groves in urban areas, it’s not uncommon to run into challenges with your site and especially soil quality, fertility, or poor irrigation. Tree Pittsburgh planted its Community Groves on garden sites that were former vacant lots, and were concerned about unfavorable soil conditions, so they built large raised beds to plant in, using the hugelkultur technique to provide a permaculture answer to long-term tree health. That's just one of multiple solutions, but the key is to stay flexible and open-minded, and to seek out urban forestry experts who know about solutions.
  • It’s a large, innovative community effort led in part by our member organization, City Fruit, to create a true food ‘forest,’ that is, a succession of edible plants that mature over time and create the layers found in nature, from low growing berries and bushes to a mature fruit and nut tree canopy. They’re employing real permaculture principles to a nearly 2-acre site in the middle of a big public park. It’s going to be a free, u-pick policy so that anyone in the community, whether passing through or lives there or playing in the park, can walk up to the trees in this forest and pick some fresh fruit. This vision of an integrated, nature-mimicking orchard is serving as an example to many organizations that are now trying to start similar Food Forests across the country. Although we don’t get a ton of credit for it because this was such a huge project with lots of partners and sponsors, ACTrees’ Community Groves program funding provided key stimulus to building these partnerships and getting the project going by funding the initlal plant materials, prepping the soil, and planting the Forest’s first 17 fruit and nut trees. And now it’s getting covered in Fast Company and The Atlantic and NPR, serving as a model for other sites everywhere.
  • A very different project took place in Lincoln, NE – it’s pretty unusual and a great example of innovative partnerships. We found that you need to be really creative in figuring out who to partner with to implement a Community Groves project for high impact, and the Community Groves Guidebook details a variety of partnership avenues you can explore and the considerations to be aware of. In Lincoln, the Nebraska Forest Service and the University of Nebraska partnered with the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services to plant a 50 tree orchard at the Lincoln Correctional Center. I think this is a really neat partnership because, unlike a lot of the other examples, these trees were planted not by volunteers, but by inmates. In the process, they learned about fruit and nut tree planting and production—they’re involved in the ongoing maintenance and harvesting of the produce, and they’re learning vocational skills to take back after their sentences are over. All the produce is used in the Correctional Facilities kitchens, saving the Department – and, thus, the taxpayers—an estimated $20,000 per year.
  • A very different project took place in Lincoln, NE – it’s pretty unusual and a great example of innovative partnerships. We found that you need to be really creative in figuring out who to partner with to implement a Community Groves project for high impact, and the Community Groves Guidebook details a variety of partnership avenues you can explore and the considerations to be aware of. In Lincoln, the Nebraska Forest Service and the University of Nebraska partnered with the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services to plant a 50 tree orchard at the Lincoln Correctional Center. I think this is a really neat partnership because, unlike a lot of the other examples, these trees were planted not by volunteers, but by inmates. In the process, they learned about fruit and nut tree planting and production—they’re involved in the ongoing maintenance and harvesting of the produce, and they’re learning vocational skills to take back after their sentences are over. All the produce is used in the Correctional Facilities kitchens, saving the Department – and, thus, the taxpayers—an estimated $20,000 per year.
  • All of these projects are helping to provide fresh and nutritious food to communities that lack ready access to quality produce. But they’re also providing other important benefits to people. These Community Groves are educating people about food sources and growing cycles, about nutrition and basic tree biology. The organizers are engaging residents and bringing in students and teaching them about trees and agriculture, training underserved youth, offenders, and marginalized populations with useful vocational skills. They’re also bringing neighbors together to dig and plant and prune and harvest, forging important social bonds that strengthen struggling neighborhoods. And they’re engaging residents to physically alter their landscape, turning vacant lots and derelict spaces into beneficial gardens.  So those are a few examples of the very different forms that Community Groves can take. Really, it’s whatever fits the specific site and neighborhood and community needs in the place you’re looking to work. There are many ways to do this, but also lots of considerations, so we created Community Groves to help make the process easier for anyone who wants to bring the benefits of fruit and nut trees to their community. There are too many people who can’t get good healthy food in America. Our cities’ urban forests can and should be part of the solution.And what can you do as foresters to be part of this solution? Well, that’s simple. You are experts in urban forestry. You know about how to plant and care for them, how to manage urban forests. You could be an extremely valuable resource to a community group that’s looking to create a Community Grove. Remember that a lot of community residents may have the drive and the passion to make a difference in the health of their communities by planting Community Groves, but they don’t have the technical knowledge about planting and maintaining trees. In almost every section of the Community Groves Guidebook, we recommend consulting experts –whether that’s our member organizations, the county Ag Extension service, or why not a certified forester. You could be an expert who helps install a transformative Community Groves project like the ones I’ve described here, helping to bring fresh, affordable, easily accessible, nutritious food to people who need it most. I really hope you’ll think about ways you can get involved. It’s an easy way to make a big difference and help create healthier, more livable, more nutritious, and more sustainable communities for everyone.
  • Community Trees, Community Nutrition: Urban Forestry and Neighborhood Food Security

    1. 1. Community Trees, Community Nutrition: Urban Forestry and Neighborhood Food Security Partners in Community Forestry – Pittsburgh, PA November 7, 2013
    2. 2. Alliance for Community Trees A national network of 200+ nonprofits and agencies that promote the environmental, economic, public health, and social benefits of trees and urban forests. 11/18/2013 2
    3. 3. What We Do ACTrees Programs support local urban forestry efforts • National NeighborWoods® Month • Tree Planting Grants • Education - Webcast Series Learn more at www.ACTrees.org 11/18/2013 3
    4. 4. Trees and Human Health Trees and Green Space improve physical and mental health: • • • • • • • 11/18/2013 Stress Recovery Attention disorders Asthma Obesity Exercise Birth outcomes 4
    5. 5. Food Security in the U.S. 1 in 6 Americans is hungry 1 • 14.5% of households are food insecure: at some point during the year, they were uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other 2 resources for food. • Over 5% of households experience very low food security: at some point during the year, because of affordability or access, they had to reduce their normal intake of food. 1. Feeding America 2. U.S. Department of Agriculture 11/18/2013 5
    6. 6. Food Insecurity in the U.S. • Over 23 million Americans live in food deserts: urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. • 49 million people live in food insecure households. – 8.3 million children – Nearly 1 million children live with very low food security 11/18/2013 6
    7. 7. Trees of Life Photo: Kim Severson 11/18/2013 7
    8. 8. Introducing… 11/18/2013 8
    9. 9. Urban Forestry and Community Agriculture 11/18/2013 9
    10. 10. Growing Public Demand 11/18/2013 10
    11. 11. Community Groves℠ Guidebook • The Community Groves℠ Guidebook helps nonprofits, community leaders, and residents plan, establish, and maintain fruit and nut tree orchards. 11/18/2013 11
    12. 12. Community Groves℠ Case Studies + 11/18/2013 = 12
    13. 13. Community Groves℠ Pilot Sites 11/18/2013 13
    14. 14. Community Groves℠ Projects Camden, NJ New Jersey Tree Foundation 11/18/2013 14
    15. 15. Community Groves℠ Projects Pittsburgh, PA Tree Pittsburgh 11/18/2013 15
    16. 16. Community Groves℠ Projects Seattle, WA City Fruit 11/18/2013 16
    17. 17. Community Groves℠ Projects Lincoln, NE Nebraska Forest Service Photo: Gwyneth Roberts 11/18/2013 17
    18. 18. Community Groves℠ Projects Lincoln, NE Nebraska Forest Service Photo: Gwyneth Roberts 11/18/2013 18
    19. 19. Community Groves℠ 11/18/2013 19
    20. 20. Leland Milstein Program Director Leland@ACTrees.org www.ACTrees.org 202-291-TREE (8733)

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