"It's getting real now." That from Joel Martin, a member of a local task force that's been working to establish a community orchard in Altona for some years now. 

In 2022, Council agreed to let the Altona Community Action Network (A-CAN) develop a plot north of the Community Garden and turn it into a community orchard. Since then, the task force has been planning and adjusting its initial blueprint. Now, however, Martin says they are ready to get to work. 

Starting in spring, the task force will scrape excess clay off the top of the soil, plant a shelter belt and seed the 2.25 acres to cover crop of mixed grasses and legumes. Whether any fruit trees go in the ground in the fall will depend on the progress of fund-raising efforts. 

1.3 acres will be dedicated to orchard with over 100 fruit trees and the remaining land will see bramble, shrubs and bushes that produce fruit. It will serve as an extension of the already successful community garden, noted Martin. The goal, decades into the future, is for people to enjoy the space. Eventually, there will be a trail that links the orchard and the community garden, and benches placed throughout for people to sit back and enjoy the blooms. The new timber frame pavilion at the centre of the community will also provide a space to host food-preservation workshops.

"Unlike the garden where people can plant and grow stuff and get results right away, the orchard is more of a long-term plan because we are dealing with trees. But it's to create a space that produces food and provides an example of a climate-resilient food system to educate, nourish and inspire the community."

Boasting several varieties of apples, pears and plums, to name a few, each row will be diversly planted, mixing up the various fruit trees. The entire orchard is based off a farm in Montreal that uses permaculture principles. 

"There's no tilling so it's all mulching," explained Martin. "In between the trees, eventually we'll grow plants like rhubarb or currents, so all the rows will be full." He added, the whole idea is not to work against nature but to use it to their advantage. "You want a lot of diversity so that in attracts wildlife like insects and birds and create a space that has food for them. The birds will eat the insects and there will even be bees for nectar and pollination, there will even be wasps that control other insects as well."

They will also be installing a trickle irrigation system.

"It doesn't use as much water and, especially in a clay soil, most of it runs off," explained Martin. "So, the trickle system is slow, and it feeds the root system and there's not much evaporation, so that way it's more sustainable."

Once it's up and running, the plan is to collect a pool of volunteers that will work throughout the year to maintain the orchard through events like working-bees. "We want people to be invested in the project," said Martin. "If they're involved then they'll get invested and take care of the whole area."

But first, the task force needs to raise money to pay for the estimated $40,000 project. According to Martin, A-CAN has already garnered $5,500 and a fundraising concert is planned for April 13th at The Community Exchange complete with a raffle and homemade quilt silent auction.