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:
- Provides passive, accessible open space;
- Opportunities for cultural programming.
- 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?
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