Nurturing Urban and Local Sustainability: A Fruit Tree Grows in Boston

February 1, 2010 by


How can the health of people and the environment in urban areas become a community responsibility? Boston’s EarthWorks takes a step forward.  Founded in 1989, EarthWorks is a non-profit organization operating under the slogan: planting a healthier and more sustainable urban environment.

Photo Collage: Earthworks Boston

EarthWorks serves three main functions:
1. Facilitates community maintenance of urban orchards.
EarthWorks starts orchards in primarily low-income neighborhoods and provides volunteer training for planting and growing fruit-bearing and nut-bearing trees, shrubs, and vines. The orchards allow public access to the foods grown, providing a great incentive for residents to help their city and their bodies become healthier. There are currently 47 Earthworks orchards in the greater Boston area.

2. Revives deserted urban spaces.
EarthWorks focuses volunteer and education programs on planting trees for the city’s neglected spots. EarthWorks created the Urban Wilds Restoration Program in 2001, an ongoing initiative that has restored 250 acres of city-owned urban wilds in Boston. A collaboration with JP trees and the Urban Ecology Institute added 250 trees in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston.

3. Provides an outdoor classroom for children to learn to care for the environment.
The successful Outdoor Classroom Program gives lessons on tree care, gardening, composting and basic ecology to 1,000 children in eight Boston public schools.

Mulberry trees at an EarthWorks orchard on the north end of the Boston University Bridge. This humble site hosts two mulberry trees, raspberries, and a grape vine. Come spring, the little park will look much more fruitful.

EarthWorks is an example of networked efforts to improve the health, beauty, and functionality of the natural urban environment. Like any stylish rooftop garden or farm, EarthWorks projects adhere to the principle of packing as much nutrition and beauty as possible into available limited space.

By encouraging personal efforts to grow plants and food for the entire city, EarthWorks blurs the line between private and public property. And as the orchards mainly grow in underserved neighborhoods, the all-too-critical buzzword “sustainability” is no longer only relevant to a privileged and powerful few. Rather, given the will, all will have an open channel to take care of their city.

This guest post was contributed by Jenny Xie. Jenny is a freshman at MIT, standing curiously at the intersection of architecture and urban planning, and surviving New England with clam chowder and rainboots. She wants to learn all about the troubles of a modern city and design to fix them.

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