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Entries in Community Orchards (2)


Sunday Garden Tour: Paris Community Garden, October 2, 2010

This could only be Paris! Man in beret sits jauntily on creperie café terrace

Last October, I spent three days in Paris looking at community gardens, urban vineyards, and visiting the impressive Potager du Roi, in Versailles, just a 45 minute train ride from central Paris. 

Perhaps the best “find” was a community garden in the 13th Arrondissement. It was just a few blocks from my friends’ house, and we wandered over to take a few photos. We were immediately welcomed by a gardener and given a complete, comprehensive tour of the whole garden.

Here’s a quick excerpt from my book manuscript:

     As in most cities in Europe and North America, interest in urban food gardening in Paris hit an all-time low in the 1990s but started to rebound just as it was threatening to become extinct. In 1999, a group of “guerilla gardeners,” activists who plant food gardens on underused or abandoned urban sites without approval of the land’s owners, planted an illegal garden on a former industrial site. The project, called The Green Hand, got an official sanction a couple of years later when Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë supported urban revitalization and urban greening initiatives like Paris’ famous Vélib’ bicycle-sharing program and the city-wide ban on pesticide use after his election in 2001. Now, La Main Verte is the city’s official community gardening resource organization, and community food gardens are making a comeback to the capital. (In the last decade, there has been a renewed interest in the protection of local culinary traditions, so heritage produce and fruits — Pontoise cabbage, Montmagny dandelion, Argenteuil asparagus, Montmorency cherry, and the Faro apple have been back in vogue.) The City of Paris’ official municipal website listed fifty-eight community gardening sites in 2011.

     After the morning market trip to Marché Auguste-Blanqui, I set out to find a community garden in her neighborhood that a friend’s husband had stumbled across just a few weeks earlier.

Marché Auguste-Blanqui: Why would you shop at a grocery store in Paris when you can shop here three days a week in your own neighbourhood?Marché Auguste-Blanqui: The Tomato Guy!Purple carrots at the Marché Auguste-Blanqui, Paris.Cheese vendor at Marché Auguste-Blanqui, Paris(OK, enough about this market, but the range of food -- cooked, cured, raw, and fermented -- was inspiring. There were fish mongers scaling fish right on the street, rotisserie chicken vendors selling hot roast, whole chicken, market gardeners, a few clothing stands, and baked goods all happily co-existing at a street market that would never, ever be allowed to exist in North America due to our extreme love of regulating direct-to-consumer food sales.)


Jardins familiaux du boulevard de l’Hôpital community garden, 13th arrondissement, Paris, France, October 2, 2010

   The Jardins familiaux du boulevard de l’Hôpital community garden is squeezed between a 1960s French government subsidized-housing apartment block on one side and high-rent apartments on the other, and is accessible only by a sidewalk that cut between the two buildings. As we approached, we noticed a wiry grey-haired man fiddling with a row of grape vines, bifocals sliding toward end of his nose and an unlit cigarette dangling from his bottom lip. His crew neck sweater, à la Jacques Cousteau, had a few pulled threads. He could only have look more French if he was wearing a beret and had a baguette tucked under his arm as he pruned his vines.

The Community Garden from a different viewpoint.


     Griffault explained that had been gardening here for five years. Before then, he’d never as much watered a houseplant, having been born and has lived in the very same Paris neighborhood his whole life. “I was born in concrete, and I will die in concrete,” he declared rather enthusiastically. He learned to garden only when he got his plot, mostly by watching the other gardeners.

     As we slowly walked his little plot, he tested our knowledge in a type of name-that-plant agricultural quiz show. The radishes, a bay leaf tree, tomatoes, leeks, artichokes, celery, and strawberries were easy enough. He then moved on to more challenging plants, like lovage and cinnamon basil. His fearlessness in his gardening was endearing. For a Parisian-born Frenchman, his sense of international culinary adventure was impressive.

     He pulled a long, white, two-pound Daikon radish, the kind that gets grated into strings and piled on sushi plates in Japanese restaurants, wiped the sticky clay from it and handed it to Jesse, who really didn’t know what to make of it. He also had shiso, a spicy, floral Japanese basil, growing on his plot. An Antillean gardener has a chayote squash vine. Another has a stand of giant cabbage on remarkably long stocks. Some plots were like a United Nations of herbs, fruits, flowers and vegetables. We spotted a pumpkin too, definitely a non-traditional French food. And very late-bearing strawberries — it was the first weekend of October.

Griffault picks a ripe "Nipple of Venus" tomato

     And of course, his row of Chasselas grapes, though the 2010 humid conditions made them impossible to grow unaffected by moldy fungus. Nearby, he pointed to a pêche de vigne tree, a late-ripening peach, on a neighboring plot. Griffault told us that these peaches were traditionally planted among the grapevines as snacks for grape-pickers during harvest.


     “Nipple of Venus!” he shouted naughtily as we approached a tomato plant with purplish red tomatoes with a slightly pointed tips was his next stop. “It’s a new one we’re trying this year.” At this point, we were clearly pillaging from other gardeners’ plots. “Don’t worry, I’m allowed,” he reassured, waving his cigarette-holding hand over his head. As we walked he picked whatever was ripe and handed it to Jesse who was happily filling her cloth market bag.


 Direct to consumer is so normal in the French food economy of many cities.



(PS: I'm on a French kick these days because my friends from Paris came to visit me in Canada.)


Urban Public Orchard in Calgary, Alberta, August and again under snow

Beautiful gala apples growing in a community public orchard in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, August 2010.Urban public orchards -- orchards planted and maintained by city governments with fruit harvest available to the surrounding community -- are not uncommon in the UK and Europe. They are often adjacent to, or integrated into community gardens.

When I found out about a pilot project by the City of Calgary for three public orchards, I made a point of going there before frost, which means getting there in before the end of August. (Calgary is located at 51° 2′ 42″ N, 114° 3′ 26″ W; it's close to the Rocky Mountains, and you can get frost pretty much anytime from September on.)

This particular orchard is minutes from the downtown skyscrapers of corporate Calgary. It's at the end of a residential street and it backs onto a steep slope. It's also adjacent to a great community garden site, the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Garden.

A bike path runs along the side of the community garden and orchard through this residential neighbourhood.

The steep slope helps with air movement to keep winter's chill off as well as pests.

Yes, you can grow pears in Canadian cities.Here's the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Garden, Aug, 2010.

High-production in a short growing season. That's the Canadian food-gardening way.

New fruit tree seedlings integrated into a "typical" residential neighbourhood park in Calgary, Alberta.

Last week, I had to make a trip to Calgary, and it occurred to me that it would be interesting to take (and post) photos of this same public orchard in the winter. For people who don't live in the north, these dramatic seasonal swings are mind-boggling, I know. But yes, orchards do tolerate winter, and whatever winterkill that happens will need to be removed in the spring, but here's what the same orchard looks like just four months later. It won't thaw and burst back to life until May.

Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Public Orchard, Dec 2010, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

At least in winter, we can appreciate the bird nests in nearby trees.

Same perspective as a photo I took in Aug.The community garden, at rest. Dec 2010, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Here's a video of this orchard's ground-breaking celebration. Please let me know if you come across any community / public orchards of note. I'm looking for a couple more for my book.