The not-so-secret garden: Toronto is poised to get its first community orchard

The not-so-secret garden: Toronto is poised to get its first community orchard

Nature's candy: The potential future of Ben Nobleman Park (Photo by webgirlpip) 

Toronto’s first public orchard may be approved as soon as next week, if the city gives the pilot project a green thumbs-up. Susan Poizner, the founder of the local gardening group Growing for Green, first saw community orchards in Vancouver and thought they were something Toronto—or, more specifically, Ben Nobleman Park, near Eglinton West subway station—desperately needed. Poizner has long been unhappy with the neglected green space (she lives nearby). Last summer, she met with a supervisor from the Parks, Forestry and Recreation department, who suggested that she apply to start a community garden there.

If approved, the city will plant the trees, but it’s up to residents and volunteers to maintain and harvest the orchard. “My original vision was to see kids coming from school and picking up an apple instead of a candy bar,” Poizner says. “What I saw was the whole community uniting to make the city a better place to teach our children about where our food comes from.”

The lofty goals don’t stop with getting kids to ditch candy for fruit. Poizner wants to have 40 trees growing apples, pears, plums, cherries and pawpaws (a papaya-like fruit native to southern Ontario that tastes like a banana), though it’ll take a few years for any of the trees to start bearing fruit. Poizner says there will be enough for the community and the local food bank, as well as the increased population of raccoons, squirrels and rabbits that will surely result.

Although the idea of free fruit is appealing, some neighbours are concerned that raucous kids might see apples more as ammunition than snackables, or that bees will swarm the park. “Their concerns are valid, and we’ll be having people doing research throughout this whole thing,” Poizner says, adding that she’ll be holding information sessions and a fruit festival to inform the community of the benefits of an orchard.

On Monday, Ward 21 Councillor Joe Mihevc will announce whether or not the community orchard is approved. Stay tuned.