Ever since the city has existed, trees have been part of the city. Trees have always accompanied urban development and structured it. Often, the identity of a city is its trees, of different species depending on the region and climate: plane trees, maple trees, sycamores, etc., line our streets. But what if we went back to an ancestral tradition? What if we planted edible forests in the city? Some cities are already doing it, others are following suit. Then, apple trees, pear trees, or cherry trees planted in squares, gardens and along avenues, offered to the greedy inhabitants of the cities? Why not?
Aeetings sometimes explain the history of a city. Under Henri IV, the agronomist Olivier de Serres planted 15,000 mulberry trees in the Tuileries garden to shelter the worms whose silk was all the rage at the time. In Cordoba, the 9th century Caliphs planted 40,000 bitter orange trees. These trees not only make up the personality of the city even today; they produce enough fruit to make the legendary marmalade of the Andalusian city every year. In the 18th century, in France, trees were planted in cities, along roads and canals. Shipbuilding was in full swing, and wood was needed for naval carpenters.
But soon the utilitarian function of trees was abandoned in favour of the ornamentation of cities and spaces. Faraway travels bring new species to be discovered and acclimatized in our countries. Closer to home, in the 1980s, ecological awareness prompted cities to develop "green infrastructure". We discover the ecosystem value of a tree in the city. We realize that trees improve air quality and, as a result, have a positive effect on public health.
In the book directed by Guillaume Morel-Chevillet, Urban farmersThe authors recall that the city of London has proved that the eight million trees growing in its urban area save £132 million each year in health costs for Londoners. Trees improve air quality, but they also provide a host of services of high ecological value. Their shade saves around 20 % of air conditioning costs, their root systems avoid costly soil remediation investments, their presence improves biodiversity and quality of life. And who says improvement of the quality of life, says for the financiers, increase of the attractiveness of a territory.
City trees provide services, but they are still little used for an essential purpose: to feed people. Edible forests are still scarce, even though a movement seems to have been launched in recent years around the world. In Indonesia, the city of Jakarta, for example, launched a programme in 2013 to plant 40,000 fruit trees along streets and avenues: mango trees, leguminous trees, lychees, etc. are already shaping the face of the capital.
An edible urban forest
This movement towards edible urban arboriculture is driven by citizen initiatives emerging around the world. They are difficult to quantify, but the dynamics are prompting many municipalities to change their attitude on the opportunity to plant fruit trees in the city. Interactive maps of gleaning areas are now available, and collectives are getting organized to encourage, promote and even take the initiative to create urban orchards. Objective: that the fruit tree be fully integrated into the urban forest, which then becomes edible.
The practice of urban gleaning is recent. It was born in 2005 in the United States in Seattle, with the movement Community Fruit Tree Harvest. In Urban farmersWe learn that volunteers harvest apples, pears and plums up to twice a week during the production period. Between 2005 and 2009, more than seven tons of fruit were harvested in this way and distributed in about fifteen solidarity grocery stores.
These movements also echo those working to develop self-help networks, denounce food waste and fight against pollution generated by the transport of food.
In France, the phenomenon can be observed, but it is more recent. In Paris, the association Urban orchards was created in 2012 to stimulate the planting of fruit trees in Paris. The arguments in favour of this initiative are primarily social. Not only does this action stimulate conviviality, but it also helps to raise public awareness for healthy and local food. The municipality of Paris supports these movements and encourages various initiatives such as that of the association Itinerant orchard which disposes of a hundred containers of fruit trees ephemerally in the city. According to the agronomist D. Huet, " The fruit tree has a special status in the flora of our cities: it is a "domestic being" that enjoys a real closeness to humans. By integrating it into the public space, the inhabitants are perhaps more lenient, more respectful of living things. "
Examples are therefore multiplying, illustrating the involvement of communities in favour of the introduction of fruit trees in urban areas. The book Urban farmers Thus, there are "gourmet resorts" in Nantes, educational orchards in schools in Paris, roundabouts planted with fruit trees and vines in Toulouse, linear orchards along bicycle paths in London, the replacement of ornamental trees with fruit trees in Lausanne in Switzerland, or the creation of a 1.5 hectare edible forest, the Beacon Food Forestin Seattle.
Of course, planting fruit trees in the city will never achieve the yields of a professional arboriculture, but it satisfies both the city dweller and the manager of urban spaces. In fact, fruit species lend themselves perfectly to many areas of the city: they can be bent, trellised, erected, in full wind, etc., at will. Training in urban arboriculture is beginning to appear in schools, and nurserymen are specialising in the production of varieties especially for the city. The role of landscape designers is important in this respect in order to integrate them into the public space. The latter often act as a relay with city-dwellers' associations to create social links by catalyzing the inhabitants around the creation of an orchard or an avenue planted with fruit trees.
These initiatives introduce a welcome plant renewal in urban spaces. A revival that reconnects two seemingly opposed worlds: the urban and the agricultural. Would we then be at the beginning of a new era that would bring people back into direct contact with the major food, landscape, environmental, economic and social issues in the heart of cities?
Source: Book Urban farmersEdited by Guillaume Morel-Chevillet, Éditions France Agricole, TerrAgora collection, September 2017.