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The London Orchard Project: bringing fruit to car parks

Jason Gleeson

17th March, 2010

Fruit consumption levels in London are woeful, and as a nation we import huge amounts from abroad. Why not grow more, closer to home, amongst the communities that will most benefit?

Every year between June and October, the Hackney Marshes in north-east London are covered with sweet, luscious blackberries. Families bring buckets and collect the free harvest, turning the berries into jams, smoothies and many other recipes. They are so abundant that most of the succulent berries are never picked.

Yet larger supermarkets will sell blackberries for as much as £3 for a small handful, and people will buy it. Most Londoners don't know about this abundance and have never had this close a relationship with their food and local wildlife. The London Orchard Project aims to change all this.

The London Orchard Project was founded by Rowena Ganguli and Carina Dunkerley. In less than a year the team has assessed, prepared and planted orchards on 12 sites in nine boroughs around the capital; and trained 50 orchard leaders in orchard management skills.

The London Orchard Project is working in partnership with community groups and local authorities to design, plant and maintain community orchards. They provide training in orchard management and support to community groups - including mapping and developing new local food distribution models and in effect creating a network of Londoners engaged in orchard activities.

 


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Berry good

'It's very exciting for us to think that London now has over 100 new fruit trees across 11 sites both north and south of the river, thanks to the hard work of our orchard leaders and partner community groups. We're looking forward to the first harvest of apples, pears and plums in the next few years, and finding out what some of the heritage varieties we've planted actually taste like,' says Carina Dunkerley, the project's director.

The project is currently working with three Transition Town groups to map and harvest fruit trees over the summer and autumn, and has already started identifying sites and interested partner community groups to work with next planting season.

'Other harvesting and planting initiatives are also sprouting across London, so it seems the time is ripe for fruit trees and orchards in our city,' says Carina.

Branching out

Similar projects are cropping up outside London. For instance, Manchester Council launched a £200,000 initiative in April 2009 which includes putting fruit and nut trees and bee hives in public parks and woods, with an invitation to the public to 'help themselves'. The Council is also running some training workshops.

Turning a small unused piece of anaemic grassland, or oil-stained scrubby car-park, into a dynamic fruit growing area makes a lot of sense: a £15 orchard will pay for itself after the first full harvest.

Why London needs to grow more fruit and veg

  • The percentage of Londoners consuming five or more portions of fruit or vegetable a day is lower among those areas in London classified as more deprived. Nationally, consumption of fruit and vegetables was lowest among households with lower incomes (source: the London Health Observatory).
  • A report in a recent UK food security assessment made stark forecasts of climate change and the threat to our food security. 'We need a radical rethink of how we produce and consume our food,' Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, has said.
  • The UK still eats twice as many apples from abroad as those from within its own shores.
  • Orchards and associated wildlife have declined considerably: 60 per cent of England's orchards have disappeared since the 1950s, resulting in the loss of fruit varieties and biodiversity according to The National Trust.

For more information on the London Orchard Project, click here

Jason Gleeson is a freelance film-maker & writer

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