outside experience 3: the community forum

This year, The Orchard saw it’s first (tiny) harvests… Now what?

It’s simple. Free fruit for all. A public orchard where everyone is entitled to the fruit.

Okay, it is not that simple.

On Saturday, I joined other Bloomington Community Orchard volunteers and Bloomington community members for an important community forum: As the Bloomington Community Orchard begins to bear fruit, who gets it? Who is all? How is it distributed? What we came to realize is, it’s all about the fruit–but it isn’t about the fruit. Ya know?

No, you don’t. We didn’t either. The acre of orchard will help Bloomington become more food secure & hopes to provide fresh fruit to those in need. But it goes beyond the existing orchard site. One of the organization’s key goals is to propagate the Orchard–take it beyond the fenced acre & spread orcharding knowledge so that landowners throughout the community can begin growing & sharing fruit. So, it’s all about the fruit & the sharing, but it’s not just our fruit–the fruit we’re growing.

So where are we? This was a sort of Phase 1 for sifting through this incredibly nuanced decision. The public-focused nonprofit is relying on community input to help frame how the fruit should be shared. What are the tradeoffs? Who earns a share of the fruit, and who has the right to decide?

Full disclosure: I’m a member of the Orchard’s Board of Directors. I joined the Orchard because I thought that its focus on food equity & security was the most beautiful mission imaginable. Going into this forum, I was scared–Would conversation be dominated by “the tragedy of the commons”?

It turns out, no. Many of us–and I’m sure you do, too–have intimate memories connected to our food. The Orchard provides a unique opportunity to create shared memories, to empower people with orchard knowledge & experiences, to feed people we may never meet. The conversation–while digging into deep issues of equity, moral duty & ethics, education & protecting the trees themselves–was overwhelmingly positive.

One of the most amazing things about the forum, and one of the reasons I can’t discuss it too much (due to the need for confidentiality), is that the forum was conducted in partnership with PACE. Their moderation skills & expertise allowed us to follow the National Issues Forum model, with the hope of using the forum as a learning tool for both communities facing issues in “the commons” & future orchard project. PACE will be helping synthesize the responses & planning the next steps.

If you’d like to learn more about the forum, check out the issues guide (downloadable here). Then, send your comments & input to communityforum @ bloomingtoncommunityorchard . org (removing the spaces, obviously). If you’d like to see more community food project awesomeness, check out these organizations & articles:

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About meganbetz

human geography PhD Student at Indiana University; wife, reader, writer, baker, gardener
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