City Fruit: Growing Food in SE Raleigh
The South Park neighborhood of Raleigh, a designated food desert and anchor at the south end of the Raleigh Food Corridor, is home to 40 new apple and fig trees and blueberry and blackberry bushes planted in mid-November. Community Food Lab and Grow Raleigh conceived this urban edible tree planting project early last summer as an actionable Food Corridor project that could get started with relatively low overhead and investment to increase access to healthy food, said Michelle Madeley, Food Systems Designer at Community Food Lab.
“We planned what was needed and how to recruit people, and then the project’s volunteer coordinators reached out to individuals and organizations to see if they wanted trees on their property,” Madeley said. “We were careful to balance the charitable aspect of ‘Here’s a tree’ with information about the need to care for the trees, so we created and delivered care instructions when the trees were planted.”
Thanks to a $1,000 grant from The Awesome Foundation as well as a donation of soil, mulch and labor from landscape company Greenscape and funding for small yard signs that helped bring visibility to the City Fruit project, the trees were planted at residences and at Passage Home, Neighbor to Neighbor, Everyday Pioneers Community Garden.
Community Organizing 101
People had signed up to receive the trees at several Second Saturday events and at cooking demonstrations at The Galley, but then some discovered that some contact information was out of date and it was difficult to reach people who had signed up. In other cases, individuals couldn’t accept them because they were not the homeowners, Madeley said. So they approached Lester Clay at Passage Home, who lives in the community and is knowledgeable about gardening. He joined Madeley to knock on doors and tell people about the City Fruit project, and then ask them if they wanted a tree.
“It went much more smoothly. Lester lives in the neighborhood, so he knows people and they trust him. It was a good Community Organizing 101 lesson, actually,” Madeley continued. “We had prepared what we needed to share and explain, but since Lester knew many people there, he just casually asked, ‘Hey, do you want a tree?’ It was easy then to share the information with them.”
“The City Fruit project was a great start for the underdeveloped South Park communities. First helping with food literacy and giving community a sense of ownership over the fruit trees, and also raising more questions about our local food system and economic development opportunities through agricultural-based enterprises,” Clay said. “South Park residents are excited about the possibilities of the fruit trees this spring and are changing their thinking from depending on what is manmade to trusting what God put here for us to live off of.”
Evaluating the Impact
Madeley said that measuring the impact of the City Fruit project has been a priority since the early planning discussions. “While it would be hard to measure whether people are eating more fruit, we can go back in six months and do a visual monitoring of the trees to see how they are doing—are they alive and thriving. And we will talk to people about how they are enjoying the trees, whether they feel prepared to take care of them and know how to do that,” Madeley said. This process evaluation will also include whether they are satisfied with their tree(s). All of this will help evaluate expanding such a project into other areas of Raleigh, or other cities in North Carolina.