FUTURE Orchard clings to the side of a steep slope carved out by ancient glaciers formed long before Adam, Eve and the Garden of Eden.
Surrounded by mighty oak trees and the Glashaboy River babbling at the edge of the ravened land, it is easy to forget this orchard is on the outskirts of Glanmire, with Cork city and the busy Dunkettle Interchange a short distance away.
Future Orchard is a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) enterprise based on an award-winning co-operative concept model, 100 Shares Per Hectare, created by founder Elaine Garde.
The orchard was established 11 years ago on land owned by Elaine, inspired by the alternative approach to land development the CSA provided: the opportunity to combine resources to create something – in this case, financial resources to develop an orchard.
Offering shares in the land, not ownership, creates the opportunity for participation in a small-scale food production project at an accessible price: €1,000 per share, either paid as a lump sum or as a series of smaller sums over a longer period. Instead of having the responsibility of owning a share of the land, members have a share in the project overall.
But why apples?
“Apples captured people’s imagination,” says Elaine. “I originally wanted to create a food forest, but it wasn’t easy to communicate what that was or how it would work. With an orchard, the idea of planting a tree and, within ten years, producing something from the fruit that could be sold was easy to visualise.”
It takes around five years for an apple tree to reach maturity and begin producing a decent quantity of fruit. The original intake of shareholders were asked to make a ten-year project pledge; now in its 11th year, the orchard harvest is enough to produce pure apple juice, bottled as Forgotten Fruits, and sold to create a modest income. Part of the income is reinvested in the continual development and maintenance of the orchard, made possible by a core of dedicated volunteers.
“The orchard is home to around 60 varieties of apple trees, and about two thirds of those are heritage Irish apple varieties.
"We’re close to full planting in the current orchard, but of course it’s easy to lose trees, from storms especially. This year, because of the late May frosts, our apple harvest will be poorer than other years, but we should be able to harvest about a tonne of apples.”
Come harvest time, the apples are collected by hand, scratted (chopped up), squeezed using a traditional apple press, and then bottled.
Nothing else is added to the pure apple juice, sold as 350ml or 500ml bottles through local shops and some Neighbourfood markets too.
“Working with Neighbourfood inspired us to move things on a bit in terms of our production,” said Elaine, despite the evergreen issue of resources. There isn’t any expectation on members to get involved with working in the orchard, yet this doesn’t seem to slow down the aspirations of what is possible from this little patch of Eden – just the ability to turn aspirations into reality.
Now that the first ten-year pledge period has finished, the orchard faces a pivotal moment. To push forward with plans, more funding is needed; but physical resources compounded by the challenge of Covid over two growing seasons has meant achieving the smallest of goals has been a drawn-out affair.
After almost two years, Future Orchard finally received planning permission to create a new entrance way onto the site.
“The current entrance is very dangerous, and that limits what we can do. By creating a new entrance with additional parking facilities, we can begin working on Phase 2,” says Elaine.
This second phase, which will be funded under a new round of shares under another ten-year pledge, will see the development of a Memorial Woodland also, creating access to the Glashaboy River which borders the lower edge of the orchard.
“For this new development, we are particularly interested in welcoming families with young children. Once the woodland is planted up, primarily with oak and hazel, and begins to establish, it will provide a beautifully peaceful setting for family picnics and barbecues.”
Consider the lifecycle of an apple tree: from bare root tree to producing first fruit is a minimum of five years, but trees can live to well over 200 years! An apple tree will grow up with a child, bestowing an education in nature and biodiversity, skills in growing your own food, as well as the gentle pleasure of watching something grow.
The shareholding is meant to last in perpetuity, ensuring generation after generation of the same family can take enjoyment, education, and an income from the orchard.
In addition, the new development phase will focus on creating a space for facilitating art workshops, after school and summer camps, all with the positive promotion of personal wellbeing and mental health at its core. “It’s very zen to walk the land and be immersed in a natural environment. We have red squirrels here, owls, and buzzards – all sorts of birds and wildlife.
“Before Covid, we were running workshops on apple tree care, pruning, thinning, and grafting apple trees with our tree expert, Chris Troy,” says Elaine. These will run again in the future for members of the public and shareholders, providing sound advice to all aspiring apple growers, and fulfilling the pledge to ‘Nurture the Future’.
Interested in becoming part of Future Orchard’s unique, award-winning Community Supported Agriculture project? Contact Elaine Garde at futureorchardtrust@gmail. com. You can also make a one-off donation via PayPal via the website: www.futureorchardcork.com
Next week: Kate Ryan talks to some of Cork’s premium craft cider makers