Monday, July 11, 2011

Boston Tree Party: Civic Engagement in Action

I am so inspired by this TEDx Boston talk by Lisa Gross and the work of the Boston community! Lisa was a student of mine in a Community Food Projects course at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts. She is the founder of the Urban Homesteaders League, a community venture dedicated to inspiring and empowering individuals and communities to shift from a lifestyle of passive consumption to one of active participation, creation, and connection. She is obviously embodying that mission with her newest project: The Boston Tree Party.

"The Boston Tree Party is an urban agriculture project, a performative re-imagining of American political expression, and a participatory public art project. At its "core", the Party is a diverse coalition of organizations, institutions, and communities from across the Greater Boston Area coming together in support of Civic Fruit. We call for the planting of fruit trees in civic space and promote the fruits of civic engagement. Each community has committed to planting and caring for a pair of heirloom apple trees. Together, these trees form a decentralized public urban orchard that symbolizes a commitment to the environmental health of our city, the vitality and interconnectedness of our communities, and the wellbeing of the next generation."

Here is the remaining text from Lisa's inspiring, witty and impressive TED Talk:
"As an urban agriculture project, the Boston Tree Party creates vital gathering places and opportunities for learning, exchange, and participation. The project builds community connections, both within and across communities, and improves community and environmental health. As a conceptual art project, the Boston Tree Party catalyzes a deep and playful engagement with the issues of food access; health; environmental stewardship; biodiversity; public space; and civic engagement. The structure and design of the project playfully reimagine patriotic and political language, imagery, and forms of association.

The apple has a long and deep connection to the history of Boston. The first apple orchard in the American Colonies was planted by William Blackstone on Beacon Hill in 1623. The oldest variety of apple in the United States, the Roxbury Russet, was developed in Roxbury in the 1630s. The Boston Tree Party celebrates and recontextualizes this history and envisions Boston as a city of apples once again.

Apple trees must be planted in heterogeneous pairs (two different varieties of apples must be planted together) in order to cross-pollinate and bear fruit. The Boston Tree Party takes these trees as inspiration. We too are interdependent and need to work across divisions to effectively address the pressing social and environmental issues we face. We too must cross-pollinate and seek out and value diversity, not just because we need to, but because that’s how you get the sweetest and juiciest fruit.

The planting campaign launched on April 10th on the Rose Kennedy Greenway with the Boston Tree Party Inauguration–the ceremonial planting of the first pair of apple trees in this city-wide planting campaign. The event also included a celebratory rally featuring Edith Murnane (the Food Tzar of the City of Boston), Michael Phillips and John Bunker (the Official Pomologists), the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center “Let’s Get Moving” Tree Planting Delegation; music by the Second Line Social Aid & Pleasure Society Brass Band; a Wassailing of the trees; free apple cider; Central Asian Barbecue (apples originated in Central Asia); and opportunities to learn more about the project.

During the month of May, participating Tree Planting Delegations each received a Tree Party Kit. The Delegations ranged from schools to assisted living centers, synagogues to churches, and neighborhood groups to hospitals. The Kit allowed each community to design and create its own festive Tree Planting Party tailored to its own needs and interests. All across the city communities planted the seeds of Civic Fruit.

The project will culminate in the fall of 2015, the year of the first full harvest, with the Boston Tree Party Convention—a city wide harvest festival, and an opportunity for participants to celebrate the project, form new connections, and get inspired. Intervening years will feature smaller summits and socials that will bring together this diverse network of organizations and individuals.

The Apple Corps, a Youth Corps developed in partnership with YouthBuild Boston, will be trained in organic fruit tree care and horticulture and will act as an “extension service” for participating Delegations. They will offer support over phone and email, and do site visits when necessary. The Apple Alliance (a partnership between the Boston Natural Areas Network, City Sprouts, Groundwork Somerville, and the Northeast Organic Farming Association/Mass) will offer free and low-cost organic fruit tree workshops all over the city. The Official Pomologists of the Boston Tree Party, Michael Phillips and John Bunker, will guide all horticultural aspects of the project.

238 years ago, a small group of people dumped several tons of tea into Boston Harbor, and with this symbolic, performative act, launched the movement for American Independence. With the symbolic planting of these apple trees, we hope to help catalyze a new movement—a movement that works across boundaries to make healthy, fresh food accessible to all; a movement to green our cities; a movement that plants fruit trees in public spaces all over the country; and a movement that comes together to care for these trees and the well-being of all citizens. We hope to inspire and nurture an ethos of stewardship that starts with these apple trees and radiates outwards to our city, our nation, and our planet."

I am certainly inspire me. Congratulation on these valiant, creative effort Lisa. I see a Food and Community Fellow in the making.

See the TedX Talk here:

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