January 31 2013

How Bout Them Apples? Chicago Rarities Orchard Project Claims Public Space for Heirloom Produce

Ever wonder why the supermarket only carries four types of apples? With the proliferation of commercial-scale agriculture, hundreds of unique fruit and vegetable varietals were lost, spurned in favor of heartier and easier to ship breeds. The Chicago Rarities Orchard Project, or CROP, is a new initiative that seeks to reclaim this lost biodiversity (along with all of the lost flavor), while reclaiming under-utilized urban spaces.

The first orchard has yet to be built but the design, by landscape architecture firm Altamanu, incorporates an attractive community plaza with an open orchard, all placed on an unused parcel of land near a train underpass. The first site is situated in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, which featured farmland in the nineteenth century, connecting the contemporary CROP initiative to an earlier period of urban agriculture. The two-part development would provide a number of community benefits:

Plaza and Orchard Plan

The proposed first orchard site in Logan Square

Plaza

  • Provides passive, accessible open space;
  • Opportunities for cultural programming.

Community Orchard

  • Provides managed open space;
  • Highly visible;
  • Produces local fruit;
  • Educational programming;
  • Opportunities for partnership with farmer’s market, local restaurants.

The idea of a rare fruit orchard and community space is unique to Chicago, so while Seattle might have a food forest concept in development, CROP’s emphasis on unique heirloom varieties is distinctive. It’s too early to gauge what type of impact this orchard will have on the community at large. While an orchard is certainly a better use for urban space than leaving the site empty, one can’t help but question if this development will heighten the disconnect between the neighborhood’s working-class Latino residents and the hip newcomers eating the orchard’s produce at Logan Square’s upscale restaurants. If successful, CROP could become the inspiration for repositories of rare produce all over Chicago and beyond.

What other innovative urban agriculture developments are happening in your city?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Andrew Kinaci

After graduating from Princeton University with an A.B. in Architecture and a Certificate in Urban Studies, Andrew Kinaci set out to the Midwest to break out of the insular world of academia, and into the direct service of non-profit work. After a year working on Chicago’s West Side with a social enterprise specializing in re-entry employment training for ex-felons, Andrew now works for an organization conducting energy audits of multi-family affordable housing buildings. He will be blogging about the many ways Chicago is seeking a more sustainable and equitable urban future.

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 31st, 2013 at 9:16 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Environment, Environmental Design, Environmental Non-Profit, Land Use, Landscape Architecture, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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One Response to “How Bout Them Apples? Chicago Rarities Orchard Project Claims Public Space for Heirloom Produce”

  1. Sunny Menozzi Says:

    This is a great post! An urban orchard specializing in rare varieties is one of the more intriguing urban agricultural initiatives I’ve heard of. While trendy farm-to-table restaurants will benefit, perhaps their purchases will provide sufficient income to enable the orchard to donate excess produce to shelters, or sell rapidly ripening fruit to local grocers at a discounted rate. I picked apples at an orchard in Vermont, and for a nominal fee visitors could pick as many apples as they could carry. The orchard had to get rid of the apples before they spoiled, and the orchard produced too many to sell to restaurants, grocers, etc.

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