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Orchards as Commons

In “The Demand for the Common Good,” Jonathan Rowe, (1/7/04) writes: “The commons is a kind of counterpoise to the market. It provides stability and sustenance rather than restless appetite and craving. It connects to the “we” side of human nature as opposed to the market’s unrelenting “me”. The concept includes anything not owned but shared in common.”

The commons is that which belongs to us all, both natural and cultural: water and air, language and libraries, streets and shade, folktales and humming.

In a world of encroaching privatization, it is good to remember and reclaim the commons. The BOP sees part of its work as creating a culture of the “neighborhood commons” with fruit and nut trees and food for the taking.

No doubt many of the sites we help plant will belong to institutions for their enjoyment and discretion.

But we hope also to plant with groups in parks, abandoned lots and other public-access sites so that people walking by can enjoy the view, the shade, the beauty, the company and, of course, the food.

The question we are asked, when we propose such a vision, is “Who will take care of these orchards and food forests?”

The answer is that much like nature itself, orchards and food forests properly designed and planted should be mostly self-sustaining. With just a bit of annual oversight and management – truly just a tad – these places can be productive, shared edens providing respite, joy, pride and food throughout the year and across the generations.

So we hope also to create a culture of neighborhood pride – with the expectation that every public orchard will have its fair share of neighbors to tend to it. Even folks who will choose to live in those neighborhoods because of the orchard there.

And these places of the commons of fruit trees and food forests will yield more than food. They will yield an anchoring sense of place, and enduring stories about their planting and care and the things that happened there that get passed down from one generation to another.

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