Growing Community, Sustainability, Joy with Trees

Growing Community, Sustainability, Joy with Trees

Nestled within Sheffield, a groundbreaking initiative is quietly reshaping the landscape of food production, community engagement, and environmental sustainability. The Eat Trees Sheffield project, co-produced by Regather and Sheffield City Council’s Community Forestry team, and funded by The Co-Operative Foundation, is about more than just planting trees; it’s about sowing the seeds of a more sustainable, regenerative landscape for our city and beyond.

At its core, Eat Trees Sheffield is all about nurturing and celebrating the edible fruit trees, orchards, and agroforestry systems across our wonderful city. It’s all about finding the land needed to plant and grow more fruit trees, developing the skills to care for these trees, collecting and sharing the seasonal harvest of fruit with the community, and transforming this fruit into tasty, nutritious food and drink, to be valued and enjoyed by everyone, all year around.

The project’s success is a testament to the collaboration between Regather, the SCC Community Forestry team, and many other local initiatives such as Sheffield Fruit Trees and Abundance. Most importantly though, it is testament to the local schools, community groups, allotment societies and vast numbers of residents who value and care for the many generations of fruit trees growing all across Sheffield. Altogether this is what makes Sheffield home to the vibrant community and culture that Eat Trees Sheffield exists to nurture, and to celebrate.

This ambitious project is rooted in community benefit principles, cooperative values, and organic farming practices. It’s about reconnecting people to the land, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and addressing inequality in our society. The work involved in planting a tree, tasting its harvest, and even what to do with your apple peelings at the end showcases how seemingly one small act can have massive impacts on our economy, community wellbeing and the world as a whole.

Let’s share a few highlights of what the Eat Trees Sheffield project has achieved over the past two years…

Eat Trees Sheffield has helped Sheffield residents to plant hundreds of public fruit trees. For example, working with Gleadless Valley Wildlife Trust (GVWT) on the restoration of the orchard at Lees Hall Farm, running Apple Day celebration events and identifying a suitable site for a new, large scale community orchard.  The first plot of the Coneygree Community Orchard has now been planted with locally grown trees provided by Sheffield Fruit Trees, based on a design co-created by GVWT and Regather. The remaining three plots will be planted over the next two years, with a focus on creating opportunities to involve children and families across the Newfield School catchment area.

The project has transformed tonnes of apples harvested by the community into apple juice for the community. The interest in making and receiving juice from nature’s urban harvest is a wonderful way to engage people with the edible trees in their neighbourhood. Regather has created high volume fruit processing facilities to ensure that fruit doesn’t just go to waste but is transformed into value-added products that support our local economy and promote stronger food security.

The project has enabled an ‘agroforestry demonstrator’ to be planted at Regather Farm. Agroforestry is a traditional land management style where crops are grown in alleys between rows of trees.  It is a way of restoring trees to landscapes where hedgerows, and the vital habitats they provide, were once removed in the name of efficiency of land use. Planting rows of trees not only benefits crops and the soil they grow in, but it also means increasing the amount of food yielded from the land.  Apple harvesting provides a late-season crop when other vegetable harvests are winding down for the year.

The project has produced an ‘edible tree map’, which will be hosted by Sheffield City Council. The map will locate fruit trees planted across Sheffield in school, community and publicly accessible locations. Access to this resource will be available on request to anyone with a ‘community benefit’ interest in fruit trees. The map will include a function that allows people to add fruit trees planted in public places but will not map fruit trees in private gardens or allotments.

Looking ahead, Eat Trees Sheffield will bring fruit tree-related activities and organisations together under the banner of the Edible Trees Network. This network will be hosted by ShefFood, forming a Working Group that will meet 2 to 3 times a year, starting this coming Autumn.  The dates for these public meetings will reflect the seasonality of caring for, harvesting and celebrating all our fruit trees.

It’s incredible to think of all the ways that one fruit tree could benefit so many people in our city. From farm to fork, Eat Trees Sheffield celebrates the joy of eating fresh, nutritious food while promoting a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle for all. In a world grappling with the urgent challenges of climate change, food insecurity, and social inequality, projects like this are a tangible example that a better future is possible and within our grasp.

Growing & Composting