Grafting and Pruning in the February Sun at Indian Creek Farm

Grafting and Pruning in the February Sun at Indian Creek Farm

By Kate Cardona, Groundswell Equity, Outreach and Course Coordinator

On Saturday, February 18th Groundswell hosted a Grafting and Pruning Workshop at Indian Creek Farm! It was a strange, gorgeous 60 degree and sunny February day, and we were glad to spend much of it outside getting hands-on experience with tree pruning.

The workshop began with an introduction from Groundswell Center to our organizational mission, which includes supporting diverse learners to gain the tools needed to build equitable and sustainable local food systems. For Groundswell, part of remaining accountable to that mission means engaging our course participants in conversations about food justice, or communities exercising their right to grow, sell, and eat healthy food. Healthy food is fresh, nutritious, affordable, culturally-appropriate, and grown locally with care for the well-being of the land, workers, and animals” (definition from justfood.org).

Indian Creek is located in Ithaca on land that was stolen from the Cayuga people of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy during the Clinton-Sullivan Campaign of the Revolutionary War in the 1770s. Following this time of genocide and land theft, a tract of almost 2 million acres in central New York was divided into military bounty lands, and given to soldiers for their service against the British. This includes the 40 acres of Indian Creek Farm. We began the workshop by honoring the land, looking honestly at its history, acknowledging that the Cayuga people are still here, and asking participants to sit with the question of what it might look like to honor their requests and vision for land use. We can’t have food justice unless we acknowledge the injustice present in our food system since the founding of the U.S., from colonization to slavery to immigration policy and beyond.

We then spent time hearing from workshop participants about their own experiences in the realm of food justice. There were many powerful stories shared, ranging from school programs that teach tree grafting to students for their student run orchard, to community gardens that redistribute land and resources to residents for growing food, to the Philadelphia Orchard Project, community owned orchards in low-wealth neighborhoods in Philly.

Hearing these inspiring examples was a great way to dig into the hands on grafting education that the instructors Greg and Dusky had prepared! We learned about what grafting is and why we do it (tissue cloning to propagate fruit trees!), how to insert scion (the first year shoot of the variety of the tree you want) into rootstock (the hearty, established bottom part of the new graft), what to call the vasculature of the tree (cambium!), and a variety of grafting techniques. These included chip budding, tying, top working, bridge grafting, and bench grafting. We focused on bench grafting for the next few hours, and all participants got a chance to graft and bring home two or three of their own fruit trees using the Whip and Tongue technique. Check out the photos to see participants in action!

Post lunch break we gathered in the sunshine for the Pruning section of the workshop. After discussing the reasons for tree pruning (tree health and productivity), Dusky and Greg demonstrated various pruning techniques on apple tree branches, creating the needed “scaffolding” and talking through the reasons for their decisions of what to prune and what to leave. Participants then worked in teams to prune their own branches, leading to an apple tree fashion show where everyone shared their logic with the group! For the final part of the workshop, we went out into the orchard and watched Dusky and Greg prune the large established apple trees. Participants made suggestions of what to cut and took turns using the hand saw and loppers while Greg demonstrated how to use the chainsaw. The orchard was covered in snow that melted quickly under our boots as we walked around in the sun, taking in the breathtaking beauty of the winter orchard and the Finger Lakes hills. Thanks to Greg, Dusky and Indian Creek farm for hosting such an informative, participatory and fun workshop with Groundswell!