The Santa Cruz Fruit Tree Project has been working with the City of Santa Cruz to initiate a new use of public park land: to grow community orchards. The trees are planted and tended by volunteers, while the fruit will be a public resource available to any visitors to the park. Community orchards also serve as an educational space for people to learn about tree care.
In 2014, the Fruit Tree Project teamed up with orchard designer Andy Moskowitz of Seed Culture Labs as well as Debora Wade of Fairy Tale Farms to develop a proposal for a community orchard in collaboration with the City of Santa Cruz Parks Department. Our first orchard, Riverside Community Orchard, includes two sites in the Lower Ocean neighborhood: Riverside Gardens Park and nearby Mike Fox Park. Both parks are located alongside the San Lorenzo River, in an area that was a famous pear orchard through the first half of the 20th Century.
We broke ground on the orchard in February 2015, with over fifty volunteers helping to plant a section of Riverside Gardens Park. In that park we cultivate blueberries, two varieties of citrus, four varieties of grape, and nine varieties of heritage and coastal-adapted apples, pears, and Asian pear. Since its initial planting, this orchard site has hosted a number of educational maintenance workshops, and has attracted environmental tour groups of local and international visitors.
Based on the success of our initial orchard, in 2017 we expanded to a larger area nearby at Mike Fox Park, just below the Riverwalk by the Riverside Avenue Bridge. Over sixty volunteers came out to help loosen the soil and dig in sixteen trees including lemons, limes, mandarins, oranges, tangelos, apples, pears, plums, peaches, apricots, and apriums, with more to come. The Riverside Community Orchard will soon total as many as 35 fruit trees, and has so far involved hundreds of Santa Cruz residents in its development, maintenance, and funding.
In the future we hope to grow orchards in other areas of the city. As of February 2017, the City of Santa Cruz is reviewing its Parks Master Plan 2030. The huge outpouring of public support for our existing orchards has created the possibility that the City will formalize support for community orchards into its Parks Plan.