Somewhere in the middle of Kentucky winter, during what I suppose we will someday refer to as “back in the Blizzard of 2015”, neighbor became dependent on neighbor. The younger ones helped shovel out the older folks, and in return we were repaid with gifts of snow shoes and cookies, Little Debbie snacks and gratitude. Spending so much time with each other quickly inspired a series of conversations. What if we lose power? What about the neighbor across the road who has electronically powered medical equipment, or people with children, who might lost their heat? What if the grocery stores close? How can we even get there if we tried right now?
Some folks even took to using their skis down the middle of the empty frozen roads just to get loaves of bread, and going through the “local” Wal-Mart, not a loaf could be found…but there was honey, there was flour, there was yeast, dry milk…all the makings of bread, yet still a store full of people panicked “what now!”. In all of the fluster it became apparent. We lived in a town dependent on buying bread, but where many folks didn’t know how to MAKE bread.
Our neighbors decided they wanted to make bread, as well break bread together. We wanted to grow food, and have freezers and pantries full of jars and bags of meat and produce, so that when bad weather came, we had some of our basic needs met. We realized that alone, it would be hard…many of us lacked the resources we needed to make it happen. Money is always a factor. Then there is the lack of equipment and/or know-how, as well as limitations of some folks who rented their homes, and still others who didn’t have enough space to grow much food. However, what one neighbor lacked we found another had abundance, such as one family which had plenty of land, but not thr strength to tend it…and the young person who had the time and strength but not the land. Connecting these people, and then in speaking with the good people of Grow Appalachia, we found there were even more resources available to us, if we could work together to use those resources effectively.
From this came the Berea Neighborhood Food Project. It is a very simple concept: find a neighborhood with a group of neighbors who want to grow their own food, and find ways to encourage people to work and share together, but still produce for themselves. Our neighborhood, East Haiti Road (and the surrounding area) would serve as the first project site. As it was winter, and not a whole lot of gardening to be done, a first project was proposed which seemed to make the most sense and would serve as a pilot project for the overall vision: a community orchard.
We were offered space by local land-owners and community advocates, Craig and Teri Williams, and neighborhood member Andri Kukas wrote and received a micro grant from Sustainable Berea, and from there we added some of our own resources and know-how, did some research, and created an orchard project which involving 6 families. An orchard is a long term vision, it is the sort of project which, depending on the varieties of trees and shrubs, can last well into the next generation. It is also a bittersweet project, as some of the participants may not even still live in this area as fruit finally comes on.
This project has been a labor of love, from traveling to remote areas to select the perfect cultivars (in our opinions), to rushing against the loss of daylight as we planted trees, and the excitement of battling rabbits who took nibbles of our precious saplings…flagging down a local landscaper for free wood chips, dumpster diving at the furniture store for cardboard, and of course getting caught in the middle of a thunderstorm while mulching. Yet after all the work, the meetings, the potlucks and late night Facebook conferences, we are doing it. It may not look like much, just 22 sticks in the ground, piled with mulch and surrounded with rabbit wire. But this is our food in the process.
We decided to also include other elements into the orchard, including movable chicken pens which will be house meat and egg-laying poultry, and will be rotated around the orchard to help keep down weed and pest growth, as well as help fertilize future garden beds. Also, Craig Thivierge incorporated bees as he create a backyard beekeepers mentor program. The orchard houses two of his 8 neighborhood hives, and will serve as a site to teach potential future beekeepers. The trees themselves came from a local legend of sorts, at England’s Orchard, located (sort of) in McKee Kentucky. From Sanguine de France pears to Maggy apples, specialized persimmons, Winesaps, and Heartnut trees, we were excited to put in some true heirloom cultivars which had been specialized to our region.In addition, we have plan to add raspberries, gooseberries, blackberries, paw paws, and of course strawberries in the future.
Some of us might never taste those Maggy apples, or experience the joys of sitting beneath the shade of the great nut trees, but we will have the memories of planting these trees together, and the knowledge that at least some of the neighbors who became friends will feed their families with the fruits of our labor. This orchard doesn’t solve the energy crisis, address climate change, or overhaul the economy. But it brings people together, to be here for each other, to look out for one another. And that is an investment worth making, one which lasts a lifetime.
For more information regarding England’s Orchard, please visit: http://www.nuttrees.net/, and note: that online catalog hardly even lists the incredible cultivars which this spot has to offer. For the full experience, you might just have to take a trip and visit yourself.