Growing fruit and berries in public spaces can help address local food insecurity

Peterborough GreenUP and Nourish's Community Fruit Group planning a 'fruitful winter' to build stronger connections and access to food in 2022

In 2021, Peterborough GreenUP and Nourish convened the Community Fruit Group, offering a place where residents can learn about fruit tree care and explore ways to plant and maintain fruit in public places like parks and community gardens. Pictured is Katimavik volunteer Élisabeth Drouin arranging decorative rocks around apple trees planted at the Stewart Street Community Garden. Rocks were hand painted by community members during GreenUP NeighbourHOOD pop-ups that took place over the fall. (Photo courtesy of GreenUP)
In 2021, Peterborough GreenUP and Nourish convened the Community Fruit Group, offering a place where residents can learn about fruit tree care and explore ways to plant and maintain fruit in public places like parks and community gardens. Pictured is Katimavik volunteer Élisabeth Drouin arranging decorative rocks around apple trees planted at the Stewart Street Community Garden. Rocks were hand painted by community members during GreenUP NeighbourHOOD pop-ups that took place over the fall. (Photo courtesy of GreenUP)

What are your associations with fruit at this time of year?

When I peel a sweet clementine, I’m transported to holiday gatherings at my grandparent’s cozy home. We had stockings at Christmas. The toe of each stocking was a round ball of citrus — usually grapefruit for us. I loved grapefruits and was fortunate to grow up in a household where we had fresh, tropical fruits throughout the year.

This wasn’t the case in Europe in the late 1800s, explains journalist Dominique Foufelle in The Little Book of Christmas. “When the custom of gift giving for Christmas had spread, the orange was a rare and expensive fruit. Oranges became a luxury for families of modest means who reserved them as a gift for their children.”

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Regular access to fresh fruit in winter is a relatively recent comfort in northern climates. In many cases, it is a luxury that is still out of reach.

GreenUP program coordinator Hayley Goodchild recalls the first time she tasted a pomegranate.

“I was in high school, at a friend’s house, sometime around the holidays. She asked if I wanted a pomegranate and I sheepishly admitted I hadn’t eaten one before and didn’t know what to do with it. She was surprised, but that’s a testament to how class continues to play a role in our ideas and expectations around food and the holidays.”

Members of the Community Fruit Group, along with Jill Bishop from Nourish, add grapes, haskaps, and apples to the Stewart St. Community Garden. (Photo courtesy of GreenUP)
Members of the Community Fruit Group, along with Jill Bishop from Nourish, add grapes, haskaps, and apples to the Stewart St. Community Garden. (Photo courtesy of GreenUP)

Today our grocery stores are full of colourful and delicious fruits and berries all year round. Not everyone can access this abundance. Statistics Canada has found that the proportion of Canadians aged 12 or older who consume at least five or more fruits and vegetables per day is declining, from 32 per cent in 2015 to 29 per cent in 2017.

Food insecurity could be partly to blame. According to a fact sheet released by Peterborough Food Action Network, 14.5 per cent of Peterborough households experienced food insecurity in 2017-18. The rate is typically worse among female-led single-parent households.

A 2020 community survey by researchers at Trent University suggests that food insecurity has worsened locally since the start of the pandemic. Canada’s Food Price Report, released last week, suggests 2022 could see the largest annual increase in food costs on record.

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This is in part why GreenUP is excited about opportunities to grow food in public spaces. This year, GreenUP and Nourish convened the Community Fruit Group. This group offers a place where residents can gather (mostly virtually) to learn about fruit tree care and explore ways to plant and maintain fruit in public places like parks and community gardens.

We may not be able to grow citrus fruits here, but through working with the Community Fruit Group, I’ve learned about many amazing fruits and berries that do flourish in our local climate.

The Community Fruit Group isn’t alone in its commitment to bring more fruit trees to our community. According to Michael Papadacos, manager of infrastructure and planning services with the City of Peterborough, “the city’s new official plan reflects the city’s commitment to expanding the urban forest’s tree canopy, and encouraging increased production and access to local food sources.”

Members of the Community Fruit Group tend to the raspberry patch at the Steward Street Community Garden. (Photo courtesy of GreenUP)
Members of the Community Fruit Group tend to the raspberry patch at the Steward Street Community Garden. (Photo courtesy of GreenUP)

There is much more to solving food insecurity than growing and harvesting your own food. These opportunities to grow and harvest your own food do, however, add valuable substance and nutrition to people’s plates. These projects also grow community connections and strength.

“By looking at ways to enhance community gardens with the addition of fruit-bearing trees,” observes Papadoacos, “we can work with residents to create a more resilient community.”

Fruit also produces something else: community, friendships, and vibrant public spaces. From union organizing on fruit plantations, to community orchards and local gleaning programs, fruit has a history of bringing people together, and the power to continue to cultivate thriving communities, both human and non-human.

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There is a blanket of snow on the ground as I write this. There is a stillness. The fruit trees have gone dormant. All their nutrients and energy are stored in their roots. They are getting ready for spring.

Our Community Fruit Group is also using winter as a time to regroup, refocus, and plan for the spring. If you are interested in learning more about the Community Fruit Group, please email Laura at laura.keresztesi@greenup.on.ca. All are welcome!

Generous support for the Community Fruit Group is provided by the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough.

Members of the Community Fruit Group and Talwood Community Garden work together to plant apples and elderberries at the Talwood Community Garden. (Photo courtesy of GreenUP)
Members of the Community Fruit Group and Talwood Community Garden work together to plant apples and elderberries at the Talwood Community Garden. (Photo courtesy of GreenUP)