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.
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.