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A Fruitful Effort Is Happening Near Cincinnati's Food Deserts

Ann Thompson
This is the first Common Orchard Chris Smyth planted, at Glenway and Schiff avenues. There are nine others around Cincinnati.

A Cincinnati man is on a mission to plant 100 orchards in the next decade as a way to help feed people in food deserts. WVXU recently visited his first one in West Price Hill.

It's easy to drive by the intersection of Glenway and Schiff avenues and not realize this green space is actually a "food forest" that is helping feed people who live in the neighborhood. Chris Smyth started the Common Orchard Project in 2017.

Smyth, a permaculturist who seeks a balance between plants, animals and humans, says the peach crop was great this year. There are also apple, cherry, pear, pecan and plum trees on this property, which once was home to two blighted buildings. Smyth explains he works with The Port and other organizations like Price Hill Will to identify where to plant the orchards.

"There's fruit trees. There's lawn. But there's also medicinals, berry bushes. We have echinacea, wormwood, passion flower, all other kinds of plants that serve a function inside the system, to either protect the fruit from pests and insects or cycle nutrients and keep the trees healthy and alive" Smyth says.

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
Chris Smyth says the orchards are designed to not require a lot of work on the part of volunteers.

The 10 orchards he has planted in Cincinnati go up the Mill Creek to Northside. Smyth sees Common Orchards as a way to bridge the gap between vacant property and eventual development.

There are a few things he still wants to work out, like a broken peach tree branch when somebody climbed up to reach the fruit. He says he has some idea about helping residents get it down.

Smyth hopes to spread his idea around Ohio. He travels to Cleveland this fall to teach a non-profit about the concept.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.