Environment: How One Organization is Working Toward Building a Greener City

Purple flower grows off vine.

The Philadelphia Orchard Project (POP) is a nonprofit organization that works toward implementing and supporting green spaces in various locations around the city of Philadelphia. With partnerships all around the city, POP envisions healthy green spaces, more robust community ties, and a hands-on learning experience.

Kim Jordan, co-executive director, discusses her journey with the POP and the organization’s daily operations before and during COVID-19.

How did you get involved with POP, and what is your current position?

I am one of the co-executive directors of the Philadelphia Orchard Project, founded in 2007. Since it started, I’ve been involved with this organization; I was a volunteer, then served on the board for seven years from 2009 to 2016. I was then offered an actual job two years ago, at the beginning of 2019, as a development director. And so you know, I’ve gotten to see the organization grow.

I am the only staff person that isn’t primarily involved in program delivery. So my role is fundraising, finance, administration, communications, like pretty much everything else required to make the organization run all behind the scenes. I’m not quite like other staff members where they might be at a different site every day of the week, depending on what time of year it is. I do get to talk with a lot of people, but mostly I might be doing some grant writing, like I was doing this morning, or I might be doing something like follow up with donors or preparing to mail a thank-you letter for someone that donated. I also might be researching new funding prospects, or entering financial information into QuickBooks to have our finances up to date, running payroll, you know, all those things. Even posting stuff to our social media or sending a newsletter out. So there’s still there’s still a lot of variety and then obviously, you know, talking and meeting with our partners. 

What is POP’s mission? 

We’ve been pretty consistent the whole time; our main program is planting and supporting community orchards in the city of Philadelphia. We currently work with 65 different site partners all over the city. There’s an app on our website that lists all of the publicly available sites, but it’s like, you know, with houses of worship, schools, other urban farms and gardens, hospitals, recreation centers, parks, historic houses, supportive housing agencies. We have a wide variety of partners that we work with. And the main thing that we do is that we are there to support our partners to realize their vision for the green spaces they own and maintain. We have the expertise to do so; we help with community outreach and engagement to do the community-led design process. We discuss sort of like what plants we usually work with, what is going to work for the space, and what is going to fit their needs. We provide plant materials, ongoing training, and volunteer coordination. And what was developed pretty soon after the actual planting process was like, oh, we need to teach people how to care for all these plants. So our other real main job is through education.

Does POP have a headquarters site?

In the past year and a half or so we have been working on our site, which’s the first one responsible for overseeing the POP learning orchard at The Woodlands. These 1.2 acres were leased from The Woodlands, where we have a demonstration orchard with everything that grows within the climate. We’ve also been planting annual crops there for donation, which isn’t something that we normally do. But last year, and this year, because there’s space while the trees grow and mature, we decided, you know, we should use that space and grow some food that can get into people’s bellies. Our partners’ ongoing support is a really big focus of what we do and educating the general public as well. Hopefully, in the future, we’ll be able to have them at our headquarters at The Woodlands.

One of the core groups of volunteers at The Woodlands helped get everything planted throughout the spring and summer and even into the fall last year. That would have been something that we probably would have done over one or two weekends before COVID because we could have a lot of volunteers at one time.

We’re looking forward to getting some in-person events back. We’re going to have a plant sale in May and an open house at The Woodlands.

What have been some of the biggest struggles through COVID-19?

Typically throughout March, we offer our ecological orchard care workshop series. Last year, we had the first two sessions in person, but we had to cancel the last two because there was a lot of uncertainty. When this first happened, we communicated with all of our partners,\ saying we’re going to pause everything for now and wait to see what happened. Soon after that, when it became clear that being outdoors was a fairly low-risk environment, we were reaching out to our partners to say, hey, you know, we’re here for you. How can we help you?

Generally, we have over 150 events each year. A lot of them are volunteer workdays that partner requests will help or need a group of volunteers to assist with ongoing maintenance. We couldn’t do that last year. We did end up having a core group of volunteers that we’re able to help at specific sites. Some sites were shut down. For example schools, we still really can’t access any of those sites and we’re not exactly sure what’s happening with all the plants within those sites. Hopefully we’re not losing too many plants, but what ended up happening was what our partners needed the most help with was maintaining their sites because, you know, again, it’s a variety of different types of partners. Some of our partners have full-time farmers, gardeners, and people overseeing the space, but other places rely on volunteers or they might have had to cut staff positions.

We spent more time than usual at our partner sites in the last year, helping them as they needed it and making sure that we could keep the fruit trees alive. You know it’s about being there and connecting with people in those other spaces was valuable.

We also had no harvest festivals this year. We’ve done an apple harvest festival for the pretty much whole time the organization has been running. We usually do a fall harvest festival at Woodford, and it’s just wonderful. We didn’t do any of that last year, so we’ll see what happens this year.

How do you educate your partners on maintaining their green spaces?

Through our ecological orchard care workshop series, we do that, which is happening right now, online, unfortunately, through blog posts and through publications that we put on our resource page about different plants, pests, and disease identification and treatment. We discuss the uses of different plants and pollinators and other things that help an orchard become successful. In general, we had much lower attendance than we would generally have at our sites and events. We have a volunteer videographer/ photographer who’s been helping us capture some footage to put more videos together for people who weren’t able to go in person. The workshop is definitely better to do in person, but people will be able to sort of see some of the techniques through video, so we’ve been working on doing that.

We work with everyone on a sliding scale for everything we do, from the plantings themselves to training to other events. For about two-thirds of our partners, we’ve paid for some or all of the costs of planting their orchard. We provide ongoing training, some sites where they’re more often, but mostly, we’re there once a quarter, checking up on things going with our partners, assessing what’s going on, and helping them meet whatever challenges they have.

Over the past year, especially, we’ve seen, it’s not just about caring for the plants, it’s about building that relationship with the partners and the people that live in those neighborhoods. We have to tend to the relationships just as much as the plants.

– Please email any questions or concerns about this story to: editor@philadelphianeighbors.com

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