By: Megan Betz
Article Title, Issue and Volume:
“Pruning the community orchard: Methods for navigating human-fruit tree relations”
Special Issue – Methods
What is the main purpose of your study?
I wanted to examine the relationship between humans and fruit trees in community orchards, to see how the trees influence community development. I also wanted to try new methods for understanding humans’ relationship to fruit trees, exploring trees’ ability to inform and respond to humans’ actions.
What are the practical, day to day, implications of your study?
Community orchards are an increasingly popular form of urban agriculture, and this research helps us understand what the sites bring to our communities, moving beyond the better-known critiques of local food projects. This study also shows that trees influence how community develops and how we practice orcharding as much as those who care for the trees influence the space.
How does your study relate to other work on the subject?
While other research has examined community orchards for their outcomes–from the ecological services or amount of food they provide to their ability to cultivate a sense of community–this research looks at how the plantings that make up the orchard influence community development and help participants rethink their relationship to nature and their fellow participants.
What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study?
• Because trees require specialized care, like pruning, and can live for decades, community orchards create a type of community that is distinct in its goals from the community developed in more prevalent community gardens.
• By taking trees seriously and treating them as additional subjects of our research, alongside humans, we gain new insight into how spaces function and landscapes influence our behavior.
• Incorporating my family life and full self into my research led to a more in-depth, nuanced understanding of my field site than I could have achieved through more traditional methods that keep the researcher removed from the community they study.
What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study?
• Living the relationships we study as researchers, rather than removing ourselves from our research, can add significantly to our ability to see and navigate our field site. This is especially important when we practice research methods that incorporate more than humans as subjects of our research.
• How trees live, grow, and respond to care influences the type of community that develops in community orchards. Understanding what we can accomplish through planting fruit trees in communities requires looking at the trees themselves and including them in our analyses.
How does your research help us think about Geography?
This research helps us think about the landscape differently. Rather than a passive backdrop, the landscape becomes as active and influential as the humans we typically study, which helps reframe how think about our field site.