When I first heard about the Dunkeld & Birnam Community Orchard I just knew I had to pay a visit. A staple of the community for a decade now - this year Dunkeld celebrated the tenth anniversary of the orchard - it is a source of immense community pride and it’s easy to see why.
I picked an opportune time to visit - the sun was gleaming as the Big Apple Day celebrations were well underway. The day featured live music, homemade treats, apple-picking, and a host of family-friendly activities - from storytelling to crafts - in celebration of a decade of bountiful apple trees. Walking along, people relaxed in the last of summer’s sun and caught up in the idyllic environment. There was a carefree spirit of play in the air, as activities such as insect hunting and face-painting ran throughout the day.
This was all made possible by a small, hard-working group who volunteer their time to make the orchard a wonderful place for everyone. “We have a small informal group who take charge of the caretaking and upkeep of the orchard”, Katharine Melville, the lead co-ordinator tells me.
“A busy time for us is harvest time, when we meet weekly to do the picking of the apples. But we also put pick me signs on the trees to encourage people to do so – and that seems to be working – all the early ones I put have been taken. So that’s great because it saves us having to do a lot of picking!”
That’s the lovely thing about the orchard – anyone can just have a saunter through and enjoy a hand-picked, crisp fruit while relaxing in the shade. And there’s more than just apples, too: speaking to John Hancox, director of Scottish fruit trees who has come down for the day, he shows me the soft fruit area nearby which is filled with sweet blackberries and raspberries. “This area was planted by my sister and when we were planting it a lot of different people were involved…it’s just really satisfying. It’s very special”.
The community has grown into the orchard and the orchard has grown into the community – the pathways leading into the orchard are like the veins of the community in a way - David Levy
I talk to many people throughout the day, and note that what is really evident here amongst everyone is the sense of strong local pride and connection that the orchard was borne from, and continues to foster. “Yes”, agrees resident David Levy. “The community has grown into the orchard and the orchard has grown into the community – the pathways leading into the orchard are like the veins of the community in a way”, he remarks.
“The thing I would really emphasise is that it’s a really rough and ruddy approach. Because we’ve always had a limited amount of people, we’ve just done as much as we can. And I think that has been quite liberating for people because we haven’t tried to make it a perfect place. But in a strange way I think that attitude has made it a slightly more organic place”, says David. This is both metaphorical and literal: natural elements are used to feed the land, not chemicals.
Sustainable, eco-friendly practices are something central to this venture and to Dunkeld at large, which was made clear to me as I spoke to Jess Pepper of Climate Café who was in attendance. “Climate Café was established in 2005 as the first of its kind – it creates a space for folk to come together and talk about climate change, things they care about, and ideas that they have”, she told me.
“I’m a Climate Reality Leader and in 2013 was trained by Al Gore. I deliver Climate Reality talks where I speak about the science, the impact in the world, and also the solutions.
We wanted to that create a space for people to talk to each other about these issues – and that’s how the café got started. Ideas come out of it. It might be that folk really care about waste or sustainable travel, and there’s enough folk united to take them forward and something can come of it.”
Indeed, the Climate Café and the Orchard share strong links, with Dunkeld & Birnam Unplugged – a week of activity celebrating community groups and projects such as the Orchard and the Field – emerging as a result of talks at the café.
And Jess firmly believes the success of initiatives such as this can be replicated in other communities, and perhaps even larger cities too. “There’s now Climate Cafés in Blairgowrie, in Aberfeldy, there’s one just about to start in Pitlochry, there’s one in Aberdeen and in North Berrick, and I’ve just been asked to help support one all the way in Miami as well! We’re supporting an emerging one in Norway too.
It’s exciting to think that Climate Café came from this wee place!” Could the same be said for the Orchard, too? John Hancox believes so.
“I would encourage communities to have a look at the Orchard, and see if they could do something like this in their own communities – there’s so many bits of lands that aren’t being used for anything in public areas that would be perfect for something similar”. This is certainly food for thought.
Leaving the Orchard, I was filled with a sense of appreciation for the spaces in which we can co-exist and foster connections – and the everyday people who devote their time, resources and energy into creating these spaces, in every community.
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