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Dundee Urban Orchard project aims to grow creativity and sustainability

Dundee Urban Orchard (DUO) is a city-wide art and horticulture project, which aims to build and care for small-scale orchards in Dundee. This project is interested in developing new artistic practices, which will speak across communities.

It also seeks to address global environmental challenges on a local level. We spoke to DUO's Jonathan Baxter to find out more. Dundee Urban Orchard Project received National Lottery funding through our Open Project Fund.

Dundee Urban Orchard Project

How does this project engage both artists and communities?

On a practical level, we don’t distinguish between the two. As artists working in the city, we belong to a variety of interlinking and overlapping communities. But in a boundaried sense – assuming that identities and communities are defined by who and what they include and exclude – we saw the project as a way of bringing different people together by creating a commonality, both actual and symbolic.

In a practical sense, we’ve worked with various community groups to plant 25 small-scale orchards across the city – in schools, community centres, a community backgreen, Dundee’s new waterfront development, and other public and cultural spaces in the city.

We’ve also developed a network of orchard groups to share skills and resources. In the process we’ve replanted, reimagined and remapped the city as an Orchard City - i.e, a city that rethinks its identity from the ground up; paying as much – if not more – attention to social and environmental needs as it does to economic development.

Dundee Urban Orchard Project

What events has DUO run in Dundee?

In a way, you could see the whole process as an event: branching-out through a series of actions and feedback loops.

On a practical level. the event that is Dundee Urban Orchard – or perhaps more pointedly, the Orchard City – has included the public consultation and co-design of the orchards; planting the orchards (either open to the public or with a specific orchard group); art and education workshops exploring the concept of the Orchard City (often using printmaking but including performance, batik, storytelling and dance), and maintenance and care workshops teaching practical orchard skills.

By reconnecting people to the practical and imaginative potential of an orchard, a whole nexus of cultural opportunities is opened up- Jonathan Baxter, DUO

There are also public art and gallery exhibitions (in Dundee and further afield); a touring exhibition of screenprints celebrating DUO as a network; community meals; public talks, and a culminating Community Harvest at the University of Dundee Botanic Garden. This is where the network came together to sing, dance, share knowledge, press apples, and generally celebrate what we’ve all achieved to date.

The project has a particular focus on food sustainability. Why is this important?

Food sustainability matters for the simple reason that without a sustainable approach to how we grow and distribute food any notion of a healthy and just society is radically compromised. The fact that Dundee has one of the highest uses of foodbanks in Scotland is an indicator of just how far we’ve come from a sustainable relationship to food. When thinking about food, it’s easy to forget that we’re thinking about culture. So many cultural activities have their roots in our relationship to food.

Cut off from those roots, culture becomes an add-on. So by reconnecting people to the practical and imaginative potential of an orchard, a whole nexus of cultural opportunities is opened up. Not to mention the benefits for biodiversity.

More broadly this is a question about democracy. Who controls access to the land and how we use the land – to grow or not to grow food; to support social enterprises, local businesses or global corporations, for example – has a direct correlation to how we think about culture: as a form of direct, participative democracy, or a system for generating personal profit and managing hand-outs.

Dundee Urban Orchard

What are you hoping the project will achieve in the long term?

The long term is uncertain. What we can say, and see, is that the project has achieved some very practical, on the ground, benefits. Beyond the orchards themselves and the care with which they’re tended, the success of the project has also had an impact – hard to quantify but clearly evident – on the council’s attitude to community food growing initiatives.

This is in part due to the appointment of a Community Allotments Officer, who is passionate about food sustainability, and with whom we work closely. But also, of course, because art projects can raise awareness of an issue through the use of symbolic media, thus carrying the message across the city and beyond. Overall we’d like to see Dundee policy makers, both cultural and political, taking up the mantle and challenge of the Orchard City.

Dundee’s bid to become the European Capital of Culture 2023 shares many of the Orchard City values. So we hope that by working together to address social inequalities and environmental degradation, the Orchard City concept can deepen its roots.

More immediately we hope that the project has brought a sense of creativity and possibility to the individuals we’ve worked with. Without them the Orchard City has no future at all.

Find out more about the Dundee Urban Orchard Project.