Library of Creative Sustainability

Inspiring examples of sustainability outcomes achieved through artistic collaboration

Dundee Urban Orchard

Dundee Urban Orchard, or DUO, is a collaborative project that supports the planting of small-scale orchards across the city of Dundee. Alongside the creation of orchards, the project has included participatory events, workshops and arts exhibitions with an emphasis on community involvement.

The project aims to better connect people with their food and promotes ideas of a triple bottom line approach to food sustainability by accounting for social, environmental and economic sustainability within an urban and peri-urban context. Community involvement and empowerment play an integral role in the project, as all orchards are designed and maintained collaboratively.

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Project Description

Artists Jonathan Baxter and Sarah Gittins initiated the Dundee Urban Orchard project, however the artists see their role as collaborative, working with the city and its residents to realise the vision of Dundee as an Orchard City. The project has created 25 orchards across the city, with the orchards defined as having five fruit trees or more. Species planted include varieties of apples, plums and pears, with an emphasis on planting Scottish heritage varieties.

The project’s first orchard was planted at Braeview Academy, a secondary school located on the city’s periphery. DUO worked in collaboration with pupils and staff to design and plant the orchard. This model of community consultation and co-design has been implemented throughout the span of the project with the aims of instilling a sense of ownership and empowerment amongst those involved. Each orchard is hosted and maintained by its own group of volunteers. The organisations involved include local primary schools, libraries, charity organisations, as well as larger institutions such as the Dundee Science Centre and University of Dundee. The majority of the orchards were planted with the intention of being publicly accessible, so that anyone can harvest and enjoy the fruits produced.

The project utilised existing networks of local food growing in the city, such as community gardens and allotment plots, to select some of the sites for orchards. However, the orchards were constructed with a “DIY” aesthetic and approach to encourage others to get involved in the expanding local food community. DUO has inspired some of the organisations involved to develop their sites into hubs for outdoor education and exploration. The local council has also increased their involvement in local food initiatives; since the project’s inception, a Community Allotments Officer (CAO) role was created within the council and DUO work closely with this officer. The CAO post was created in response to the Fairness Commission’s recommendations as part of their actions to tackle poverty in the city. The remit is to promote and support community food growing in Dundee’s most deprived areas, including establishing new growing sites incorporating orchards. These projects have developed in parallel and intersecting with DUO to make orchards a ‘normal’ part of the cityscape.

Dundee Urban Orchard has also included community events and workshops. To ensure the long-term stewardship of the orchards while also increasing skills and resource sharing in the area, the project’s workshops addressed topics of design, planting, pruning and harvesting. Baxter and Gittins represented DUO at many local events, such as the annual Dundee Flower and Food Festival, to raise community interest and awareness of the project.

Dundee Urban Orchard Waymarker Dundee and Angus College

Waymarker for the Orchard City public art trail, Dundee and Angus College, Gardyne Campus, 2017; Credit: Jonathan Baxter

All orchards are signposted by waymarkers and some include public artworks, such as murals or mosaics, contributing to a trail of public art across Dundee. The waymarkers and artworks assist in site interpretation, helping to explain the project and its aims to visitors. Maps of the Orchard City network are also available on the project’s website, in some of the City’s Leisure and Culture publicity racks and have previously been made available at the orchard sites. Drawing from their own creative practice and the skills of the local creative community, Baxter and Gittins have hosted workshops to teach artistic skills such as printmaking and batik. Throughout every stage of the project, exhibitions of artistic works have been held to cultivate interest in the larger principles of Dundee Urban Orchard. A series of Orchard City screenprint posters were created using images of Orchard City network members. These works were shown in exhibitions within Dundee and further afield, and are now housed at one of the orchard sites. However, the project reaches beyond the gallery context and rethinks the role of the artist as initiating a project that is delivered collaboratively with the community.

In October 2016, the project culminated with a community harvest celebration at the University of Dundee Botanic Garden. The programme for the day included dance, music, storytelling performances, a DUO exhibition, and demonstrations. Many of the project stakeholders were stallholders at the event or delivered talks. Produce was shared and celebrations concluded with the planting of a plum tree.

Baxter and Gittins have described the project metaphorically as a process of grafting branches and setting roots; as artists they feel their role was to respond to a specific situation in the city (in this case issues relating to food security), develop a framework to address this situation, and assist the community with the practical skills to make the project their own. The project continues to grow organically with many of the orchards inspiring further planting. A local ethical food-buying group was created as part of the project and now runs independently, with local interest in food sustainability clearly rising.

While the bulk of the orchard plantings took place from 2014-2017, the project continues on a longer-term scale as DUO contributes to the maintenance of existing orchards and the animation of the Orchard City network. DUO is also developing a second phase of the project: the planting of a large-scale community orchard on a former landfill site in the city; this in response to feedback from the Orchard City network and at the invitation of a ‘Friends of’ group and Dundee City Council.

Partners & Stakeholders

  • Dundee Urban Orchard has co-designed and constructed orchards with 25 different groups across the city. These include local charities, churches, schools, libraries and local institutions, such as the University of Dundee and the Dundee Science Centre.
  • The local council provided partial funding for the project, with an informal agreement between project organisers and the Environment Department (now Neighbourhood Services) that orchards would be planting with community groups and cultural organisations.
  • The project relied upon the help of a volunteer network who continue to oversee maintenance and care of the orchards. Establishing a shared maintenance scheme encouraged active engagement with the project and inspired stewardship and participation amongst local residents.

Sustainability Issues

The implications of climate change on the food system hold serious consequences for future food security, while current methods of food production and distribution contribute greatly to carbon emissions. Dundee Urban Orchard explores the dilemma of food security and climate resilience utilising the city of Dundee as a microcosm of global issues.

The project addresses the following sustainability issues:

  • Growing food locally reduces the carbon emissions associated with food production and distribution
  • Local food production brings economic and social value to neglected or overlooked spaces
  • Planting trees increases carbon sequestration and the creation of green space in urban areas reduces the heat island effect
  • Planting areas with a variety of tree species increases biodiversity and encourages pollinators
  • Skills learning and resource sharing has a positive impact on the socio-economic sustainability of the city by enabling local residents to participate in community-building projects and local economic activity

Orchards become a metaphor for the way individuals and communities can work together with the ecology of their place to transform urban space into an orchard city.

Jonathan Baxter as quoted in Big Issue

Lessons, Tips & Advice

Dundee Urban Orchard is significant in its empowerment of local residents, long-term vision and encouragement of collective action. The artists see their role as:

  • identifying a particular concern
  • putting forward a proposal for creative action
  • working in collaboration with community members and local organisations to realise the proposal in response to community feedback.

Because of this, the project becomes sustainable over a longer time period, and becomes more successfully embedded within the fabric of the local community.

To ensure community engagement with the project, a series of skills-based trainings and participatory events provided members of the public with the skills necessary to plant and maintain the orchards, while also increasing interest and accessibility of the project. Each orchard was planted with a specific group to encourage ownership of the project by community organisations.

The orchards and any associated public art maintain a “DIY” aesthetic to encourage involvement on a grassroots level, and maintains accessibility to the work by a non-arts audience.

Funding

Dundee Urban Orchard receives funding from Creative Scotland, Dundee City Council and Forestry Commission Scotland.

In-kind support has been provided by the project’s network of volunteers, as well as Dundee West Church and Roseangle Commons.

Related Projects

Quotations

Trusting in the power of the creative imagination and challenged to address the triple crisis of climate change, peak oil and food scarcity, we plant orchards in the city and orchard thinking in the mind. Dundee Urban Orchard
We define ourselves as an art and horticulture project but we’re trying to support the social and emotional well-being in the city by offering a celebratory response to the local and global problem of food poverty. Jonathan Baxter as quoted in The Courier

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