Philadelphia Orchard Project growing subtropical fruits at The Woodlands

Philadelphia Orchards Project Executive Director Phil Forsyth kneeling next to a banana plant growing at The Woodlands
Philadelphia Orchards Project Executive Director Phil Forsyth kneeling next to a banana plant growing at The Woodlands

Since 2007, The Philadelphia Orchard Project (POP) has been on a mission to serve low-income populations who lack access to fresh produce. Headquartered at The Woodlands near 40th St and Woodland Ave and partnering with 69 orchard sites in the city, the nonprofit aims to use underutilized green spaces to grow perennial crops, which can live for years without needing to be replanted. Now, they are embarking on an endeavor to plant subtropical fruit trees in Philadelphia that have never been grown here before.

Specifically, the nonprofit has plans for olives, yuzu, kumquat, a grapefruit hybrid called citronella, and even certain types of bananas. If successful, it could be the beginning of a new trend that would allow immigrant populations in West and Southwest to grow more fruits typically grown in warmer climates.

“We’ve been limited by our climate to what parts of the world we can grow plants from,” Phil Forsyth, executive director of the Philadelphia Orchard Project said. “So this is enabling us to connect with new populations through plants that are familiar and provide a taste of home that can have a lot of meaning.”

The new crops are being housed in high tunnels, which are unheated greenhouses made of metal arches and plastic coverings that can trap or vent heat as needed. Forsyth and his team finished building the high tunnels located at their Woodlands location, The Learning Orchard, last November and are eager to see the results of their first growing season.

These new possibilities are partially a result of climate change which has brought steadily rising temperatures to the city over the course of decades. And with an even warmer climate likely on the horizon, Forsyth wants to start preparing for what could become possible so he can help people adapt when the time comes. Although a warming climate presents an array of concerns and challenges, this is a side effect that advances agricultural development and unites Philadelphians from different walks of life.

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