Most people recognize the benefits of a healthy and expansive tree canopy, especially in urban settings – they beautify neighborhoods, create a buffer between streets and pedestrian areas, remove pollutants from the air, minimize the urban heat island effect, and provide habitat for wildlife. What if we planted trees for the additional benefit of feeding us?
The City of Peekskill has allocated part of the city budget towards planting shade trees along our streets, and tree planting and maintenance is an important part of the Parks Department’s scope of work. At least a portion of all new trees planted in Peekskill should be fruit or nut-producing trees, benefitting wildlife and urban food foragers alike.
Chestnut trees are sometimes called “bread trees” for their nutritional and culinary value, with a single mature tree providing half the grain needs for an adult. Before a blight effectively wiped them out, American chestnuts were a popular ornamental tree in eastern U.S. towns and cities – dwarf Chinese chestnuts, which aren’t susceptible to blight and don’t require irrigation, could make an attractive, low-maintenance, food-producing alternative.
Other edible trees and plants native to New York State include highbush blueberries, American elderberry, American hazelnut, flowering raspberry (and the similar wineberry, already growing all over Peekskill), serviceberry (or shadbush), and summer grape. Cherries, pears, peaches, apricots, and, of course, apples, are other trees that grow well in the northeast. Planting these and other native varieties on public land throughout the City would not only create a welcoming environment for pollinators, but offer a free, public, low-maintenance food source for residents and even potential economic opportunities.
What Can We Do?
- Lobby the City and Department of Parks and Recreation to include fruit and nut-producing trees and other native berries in their planting plans, with educational signage indicating they’re safe to pick and eat.
- Volunteer to care for newly planted trees. Organize a “harvest day” with neighbors when mature trees are ready to pick.
- Plant on your own property. Coordinate with neighbors to plant different varieties; this aids with pollination and encourages crop diversity. It’s also useful if you don’t have enough space in your own yard to plant two or more trees.