A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on a news article about neighbors in Flint, Michigan who transformed a parcel of vacant lots into a vegetable garden and fruit orchard.

Such neighborhood gardens are a popular strategy for improving vacant lots in ‘Shrinking Cities.’ Though in most distressed areas, these are perceived as temporary uses. For instance in this Flint story, the Genesee County Land Bank gave permission for this garden and orchard to be planted, but did not allocate this land for permanent community agriculture use. Because, conceivably, in few years, there will be interest to redevelop the land, and these neighbors will have to hang up their gardening gloves.

Yet there’s a burgeoning consensus that growing food within city limits is always a good thing – in shrinking and growing cities alike – for a number of reasons. In her article Small, Green and Good, Catherine Tumber synthesizes these arguments for local food production. She writes,

As Michael Pollan demonstrates in his best-selling The Omnivore’s Dilemma, agribusiness puts down an enormous carbon footprint. Sustainable agriculture and animal husbandry not only produce more nutritious food and less cruelty to animals, they are also far less dependent on petroleum for long-distance transportation, fertilizer, and neurotoxic pesticides (not to mention antibiotics). Building on the work of organic farmers and environmental activists since the ’70s, Pollan’s call for relocalizing agriculture coincides with rising alarm about the perils of climate change and dependence on foreign oil. Even the United Nations, which has long embraced agribusiness as the key to famine prevention, is beginning to recognize the role of sustainable, localized practices in food security.

So I think this Flint neighborhood has the right idea – pairing the garden and orchard. The garden is a great short-term greening tool and has helped to bring community together. And the fruit orchard is a more lasting approach to urban greening. If planted around the perimeter of these lots or in small clusters, these trees (or at least most of them) can remain even if the lot is redeveloped.

Mature fruit trees add character, provide healthy food and shade, and are relatively easy to maintain. Communities around the country are realizing the benefits of urban fruit trees. In Berkeley, California “urban gleaners” (or fruit philanthropists) pick fruit from neighbors’ yards to donate to local food banks. And around the country, community fruit exchanges are being established where neighbors can share their figs, lemons, and persimmons with each other.

I hope that the pairing of a garden and orchard becomes an increasingly popular strategy for dealing with vacant properties in other ‘Shrinking Cities.’ So even in instances where the garden is seen as a temporary use, the trees can feed and shade the community for many years to come.

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