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Moveable Orchards, a brilliant solution to help Baltimore’s food deserts

LAUREL PELTIER, BALTIMORE FISHBOWL — While many of Baltimore’s urban spaces don’t have the proper soil conditions to support a newly planted orchard, the folks at the nonprofit Civic Works have come up with a solution: Make the orchards portable, and bring them to the communities that need them.

The inaugural “Moveable Orchard” will sprout on April 27 at the Baltimore Food Hub in Broadway East. Once 3.5-acre brownfield property, the redeveloped campus now hosts a culinary job development program and start-up food incubators. And soon, they’ll have their own fruit supply.

“Moveable orchards allows us to re-imagine urban settings, and really [are] the seed for a larger concept,” said Eric Sargent, a planting coordinator at the Baltimore Orchard Project.

Founded in 2012, the Baltimore Orchard Project‘s mission is to grow an “edible Baltimore” whose harvest can be shared with neighbors. The project, which is operated by Civic Works, has planted more than 100 orchards around town.

It begins by bringing in a portable plot, so that partners can get some fruit at the start, Sargent says. “Over the long term, portable orchards buy our partners some time for soil remediation and more gardens and orchards to be planted in the future.”

Of course, growing a fruit tree in Baltimore isn’t without its challenges. Sargent says staff met with plenty of community partners who were initially interested, but ran into obstacles in the ground.

“The problem that we found is that too many potential sites had poor quality, or even contaminated or compacted soil, that wouldn’t sustain orchard trees,” he says. “Remediating planting soil can be expensive and also take years to accomplish.”

Beyond optimal growing conditions, fruit trees require patience. Apple, pear and fig trees bear fruit between two to five years. Pawpaw trees, sometimes known as “hillbilly mangoes,” can take up to seven years until fruit harvests. But many of the prospective Baltimore Orchard Project sites were part of the city’s Adopt-a-Lot program, which did not guarantee the properties would be protected for the long term.

Check out the rest of the article online at the Baltimore Fishbowl. Photo credit Bengt Nyman, via Wikimedia Commons.