One of the best things about my neighborhood is how often something “interesting” happens. Bagpipers practice in a parking lot. Tourists try to use a Nice Ride. A couple carries a full-size dining room table down the sidewalk. Zombies careen onto the bus. Rock cairns collapse when a bird lands – as designed.
I benefit so much from all those interesting things, I feel like I need to return the favor now and again. But I’m lazy, and I’m not very creative. That said, I think I’ve found a way to carry my weight making my street more interesting. And as you can see, my street needs some help, between the lack of shade and massive parking lots.
I like growing food in my yard, and I only ever do perennials. (Annuals take too much work. I’m lazy.) So, I’ve got a bunch of [organic] fruit trees. My favorite is a North Star Cherry tree, planted a tad too close to the sidewalk.
It’s a dwarf tree, so it’s only 13 feet high, but it’s prolific. Every year, it gets LOTS of tiny cherries that are now ready for picking.
I think of the tree as a community building tool. My home is near a Nice Ride kiosk, multiple restaurants, an ice cream shop, and stores that sell cute useless stuff. Lots of people walk past the house, and sitting on the porch in June you see many stop to look. Somewhat often they peer around and ask, “Is this a cherry tree?”
[Note: when fruiting, it is obviously a cherry tree. If you ask a four-year-old to draw a cherry tree, this is what they draw.]
The tree — when in fruit — makes my street interesting.
I take it further. There are way more cherries than I can use, so it’s my excuse for a front-yard party. The 10th Annual Cherry Harvest was last weekend. I invited my neighbors, including the ones from across the alley who don’t talk to the renters on my side of the block. Setting up ladders in the sidewalk and having half a dozen kids and a couple supervising adults around the tree draws in neighbors and passers-by. The unusual activity makes it easy for strangers to interact for a few moments.
For attendees, the draw is the family-friendly event. Little kids especially love doing meaningful work. (When they arrive, the cherries are on the tree, then in their bowl, through their cherry pitter, into their coffee cake, and finally in their stomachs. Fun!) Adults can choose to elbow their way to the tree or to let the child-free adults supervise while they chat with other adults. Everyone takes some cherries home.
I’m rather amazed what this one plant does as a community-building tool. At neighborhood meetings when we compare addresses, it’s not infrequent that people give a smile of recognition when I say, “I live in the house with the cherry tree in the front yard.” That even worked in Duluth, one time. This weekend it was a conversation starter for the back-yard garages sale. It introduced me to Michael (I invited him to come to the party). It tempted my neighbor to the north to stop by for the first time. At the party, I tested some infused rum a guest brought thanks to last year’s harvest. Plus I got to hang out with friends and get help with my harvest.
The bigger benefit is the community-building. Neighbors meet, and discover those renters aren’t so scary after all. We get to look forward to familiar faces at the next neighborhood annual meeting.
What’s the best community-building trick on your street or in your neighborhood? What’s YOUR contribution?