Why The International Fruit Tree Planting Foundation Is Based in Pittsburgh
The nonprofit supplies trees all over the world, including at the Food Bank Farm at Eden Hall.
With warmer temperatures and longer days on the way, work is resuming on farms across the Pittsburgh region to produce seasonal crops, including on a 1-acre plot established for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank at Eden Hall Farm.
Now five years old, the project is “dedicated to growing organic produce for the Food Bank. Volunteers help prep and weed the soil, plant seeds and glean,” according to its website.
Part of plot includes 80 fruit trees — apple, plum, cherry, pear and peach — that have been donated by the international Fruit Tree Planting Foundation, which aims to plant more fruit trees all over the world, says Indira Alcantara, manager of Eden Hall Farm, which is based in Richland.
“Our mission is to plant and help others plant a collective total of 18 billion fruit trees across the world –– roughly 3 for every person alive –– and encourage their growth under organic standards,” according to the foundation’s website.
Although this foundation works all over the world, its co-creator, Cem Akin, grew up in Pittsburgh, providing a connection to the Steel City. Eden Hall Farm began working with the foundation on the food bank farm in 2020.
Akin calls himself the “TreeEO.” He says that the project brought him back to his hometown in 2008. He has degrees from Carnegie Mellon University, including a master’s of science in public policy and conducted further studies elsewhere.
Akin explains that the area offers an advantageous place to grow fruit trees. “With its dense forests and friendly people, Western Pennsylvania serves as the perfect setting,” he wrote in an email.
“Every spring, FTPF holds events in the Pittsburgh area to create abundant orchards for schools, nonprofits, food banks and public parks,” he wrote.
He said he developed a deep appreciation for fruit trees by spending time admiring his grandmother’s cherry tree in Turkey.
The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. Pittsburgh is the foundation’s East Coast hub, and according to Akin, this year it will have projects in the U.S., El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, Uganda, and with several Native American nations.
All of the fruit and vegetables harvested at the food bank farm is donated to local Pittsburgh neighborhoods; nothing grown is sold.
Recruitment of six-14 volunteers, a few students from Chatham University and farm administrators keep the planting activities going and also provide some diverse resources.
“We learn not only from the experts but from everyone’s experience and the health of the trees is our main goal and concern,” Alcantara says. All of these institutions are an important part of running the Food Bank Farm.
The food bank serves 11 counties in southwestern Pennsylvania. Through its farms and donation partners, it provides 10 million pounds of produce annually. To accomplish its goals, the food bank receives help from more than 4,000 volunteers, who work tens of thousands of hours. All of this food serves 110,000 people every month.
Anyone over the age of 15 is welcome to volunteer at the Food Bank Farm, and minors can volunteer when accompanied by an adult.
To learn more about volunteering with the Food Bank Farm you can reach out to email@example.com or call 412-745-7600.