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Photo: Kelvin Ma

Urban Riff on Johnny Appleseed

If Lisa Gross, G11, has her way, Boston will be taken over by apples. She points out that America’s first apple orchard was planted in Beacon Hill and that the oldest variety of apples in the country was developed in Roxbury. What’s more, she believes apple orchards offer a nice model for life in the big city. “The interesting thing about apple trees is that they need to be planted in heterogeneous pairs to cross-pollinate,” she says. In other words, “You can’t produce fruit alone, and you can’t produce fruit with others just like yourself.”

And so she has founded the Boston Tree Party, a public art movement that became her M.F.A. thesis project. Her vision is to create one giant orchard that sprawls all over Greater Boston, and to realize it, she’s organizing community groups to cultivate heirloom apple trees, two at a time. Fifty-five groups are already onboard, including elementary schools, assisted-living facilities, and local businesses. The orchard now extends into Somerville, Roxbury, Mattapan, and Dedham, among other areas. Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy has planted one tree in the student garden on the Boston campus, and nearby, on the corner of Oak and Washington streets in Chinatown, the Josiah Quincy Elementary School has planted a mate. On the Medford/Somerville campus, Tufts’ student garden club has graced the Tisch Library patio with its own pair.

In some ways, the project is a kind of performance. For example, its inauguration on the Rose Kennedy Greenway this spring resembled an old-time political rally, complete with speeches, banners, and a marching band. Each tree-planting “delegation” received all the trappings needed to throw a mock rally of their own. They also got a plaque they could post to inform passersby that the apples the trees eventually produce will be free for the taking. So far, the Tree Party orchard contains seventy heirloom trees, enough to yield ten or fifteen thousand apples a year, with the first big harvest due in the fall of 2015. Gross hopes to celebrate with yet another politically themed bash: an apple festival to be dubbed the Boston Tree Party Convention.

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