Sam Van Aken’s The Open Orchard comes to life to restore biodiversity

Cli­mate change impacts ecosys­tems in ways that might not be vis­i­ble if you don’t know what to look for. Species and habi­tats can dis­ap­pear with­out mak­ing a sound. 

Sam Van Aken, a sculp­tor and mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary artist who is the Grad­u­ate Pro­gram Coor­di­na­tor for the School of Art at Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty, wants to rein­tro­duce us to what we don’t know we’ve lost. Cli­mate change and indus­tri­al­ized agri­cul­ture have reduced the bio­di­ver­si­ty of plant life in the Unit­ed States to a shock­ing degree. While a cen­tu­ry ago the U.S. boast­ed over 3,000 dis­tinct vari­eties of peach tree, there are now under 100. In his new project, The Open Orchard, Van Aken seeks to restore and pre­serve some of New York’s lost bio­di­ver­si­ty and all its deli­cious ben­e­fits. The Open Orchard will plant 50 hybridized trees on Gov­er­nors Island, each one bear­ing mul­ti­ple vari­eties of peach­es, plums, apri­cots, cher­ries and apples once native to the area but that have since dis­ap­peared. His vision for the project com­bines artis­tic expres­sion and envi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship into a sprawl­ing pub­lic art­work that’s also a shared resource for gen­er­a­tions to come. 

The ancient art of tree graft­ing, which Van Aken uses to cre­ate his hybrid trees, involves stitch­ing mul­ti­ple fruit tree vari­eties togeth­er into a sin­gle tree that bears dif­fer­ent fruit on each of its graft­ed branch­es. The results are not only beau­ti­ful and deli­cious (trees burst­ing with rain­bows of flow­ers and yield­ing entire fruit sal­ads) but an inge­nious way to pre­serve van­ish­ing fruit vari­eties. Van Aken is already grow­ing 200 of these trees in a nurs­ery on Gov­er­nors Island. When The Open Orchard is plant­ed over the next few years, 50 of them will remain on the Island to cre­ate the art­work, which dou­bles as a ful­ly func­tion­ing orchard, and 150 will be dis­trib­uted to com­mu­ni­ty gar­dens across the city to spread the ben­e­fits of the project and fur­ther safe­guard the includ­ed varieties. 

We launched a Kick­starter cam­paign to help us bring The Open Orchard to life, and we hit our fund­ing goal! We’ve intro­duced a stretch goal to donate 100 more trees to NYC com­mu­ni­ty gar­dens. Learn more and help us plant the seeds of this remark­able, vital project here. Thank you to every­one who has backed the project so far!