Turning your backyard into a fruit oasis: Guelph resident helps homeowners address long-term food security
Matt Soltys has been learning independently about botany and propagation since his early 20s, growing a variety of trees from seed and experimenting with different propagation methods. It was not until recently that he decided to go back to school to pursue a degree in Biology and Philosophy to further his knowledge on plant propagation, fruit crops and plant breeding. Matt has always been interested in foraging and the wealth of abundance that comes from urban agriculture.
Drawing on these experiences and in response to the pandemic, he decided to start his own business: The Urban Orchardist. Matt realized there was an increasing amount of people interested in planting their own gardens and backyard orchards and that his skillset is useful but increasingly rare. As a result, Matt now offers consulting services on the various kinds of fruit trees that can be grown locally, how to site, nurture and prune them properly, and how to yield a plethora of fruits.
Years ago, Matt helped organize a Guelph-based project that collected fruits from residents’ trees and donated them to local food banks. This venture illustrated the number of homes in Guelph with fruit trees that either do not know how to care for them or have too many fruits to use themselves. This is where his consulting can help; offering services like organic pest protection and proper care will ensure that people’s trees produce a good quality harvest every year and prevent fruits from going to waste.
When Matt discovered the Seeding Our Food Future Program, he knew that this was the perfect program to help kickstart his business. With the focus on encouraging people to have confidence in growing their own fruit trees, Matt’s consulting will provide families with the tools to improve their food security long term. If more people have productive fruit trees in their yards, it can decrease their need to purchase fruits and fruit products.
Matt describes that benefits extend beyond just the fruit itself. Owners can take the leftover fruits, dry them out, and use them as snacks throughout the year. A variety of different fruits can also be made into jams, jellies, and sauces that have a longer shelf-life. Part of Matt’s project is to build a website for his consultancy which will also outline the many uses for each type of plant. Using his own yard as an example, Matt describes the array of plants that can be grown locally: plums, pears, peaches, cherries, currents, serviceberries, raspberries, gooseberries, elderberries, hazelnuts, shagbark hickory, pecans, and more exotic fruits, like: Goumi berries, Jostaberry, and Sea Buckthorn. Although many of these plants take several years to fruit, Matt focuses on longer-term prosperity. Whether it is his family or another one in ten years, someone will enjoy the wealth of fruits available. To supplement this venture, Matt is starting his own nursey over the next few years to offer a variety of edible plants like fruit and nut trees, edible vines, and berry bushes.
Matt’s vision of circularity is achieving the maximum amount of uses and collaborations for every resource. Matt uses the hedge in his front yard as an example as it currently serves only one purpose: to provide privacy. In line with circularity, he wants to replace it with a row of berry bushes. This will not only serve the intended purpose of added privacy but will be able to provide berries for passersby. The stacking of functions to increase multiple uses is the heart of circularity. For Matt, community is key and his goal is to create orchards that will serve as social spaces where we can celebrate food and address long-term food security.