Urban Orchard Takes Root in Creston
By Amanda St. Amour
The Living Green in Creston (LGC) committee started as a conversation group about topics surrounding permaculture, recycling and energy efficiency. The group has embraced several movements in order to promote environmental health and awareness in the community.
As a result of the recession, the City of Grand Rapids began soliciting creative, volunteer-driven neighborhood improvements around 2010. LGC moved to action supporting several initiatives in the park system, including the design and planting of a monarch waystation during a KaBoom playground restoration at Briggs Park.
In May 2011, the LGC had an opportunity to partner with a long-time community orchard builder. Athens Arborist (Ohio) offered to supply and deliver fruit and nut trees and teach us how to organize and maintain our orchard, if LGC could find an appropriate public location and provide the labor needed to plant the trees. LGC accepted the challenge to convince the City to provide space in neighborhood parks. Aberdeen, Briggs and Riverside were selected as the locations to plant 30-40 trees.
On July 8, 2011, committee member Caroline Chadderdon invited neighbors out to plant trees: “It is almost here! This public urban orchard dream is finally happening!” A group planting of 15 trees at Aberdeen was planned for July 11. Neighbors and friends offered donations to CNA to “sponsor” and plant trees. This was not only symbolic, but each sponsor was responsible for planting a tree. In anticipation of future harvest, the planting date also included a “Fruit Pie Throw-Down”. Local restaurants, Graydon’s Crossing, Red Ball Jet and August’s Kitchen all contributed pies in a friendly pie-tasting competition with amateur bakers in the neighborhood. (The winner was… everyone who got a taste of the pies.)
The trees that were selected are antique varieties. The fact that these varieties were cultivated as far back as the 1600’s and many of them specifically in the mid-west means that they are well-adapted to our local environment. They require less watering, chemical treatments and pruning than typical orchard fruit. While some maintenance is necessary, these features will help keep our efforts focused and costs minimal.
The creation of the Urban Orchard at Aberdeen Park has fostered a long-term relationship between our small committee, CNA, and the City’s Parks Department. LGC members agreed to care for and maintain the trees into the future. When the trees were planted, LGC and volunteers installed wire cages around them. These were removed and replaced with plastic trunk protection in 2017. Although the trees were planted in 2011, LGC did not receive permission to install a sign for the orchard until 2014. LGC remained in contact with the Parks Department through every step. In February 2019, committee member Amanda St. Amour wrote to the Park Supervisor, “The fruit trees at Aberdeen and Riverside are growing quite well. I plan on pruning them sometime in the next few weeks while they are still dormant. Most of them are big enough to start taking some of the lower limbs off in order to make them easier to mow and walk under. When we installed the orchard, we planned on continuing to perform this kind of maintenance as long as we are able. Is this still okay with you?” The Parks Department responded, “This is so great to hear. Yes, please proceed!”
The Urban Orchard at Aberdeen Park has given many opportunities to the community. It has been the location of several fall celebrations, has attracted volunteerism by local student groups and served as the classroom for planting and pruning workshops. As of August 2019, the apple and pear trees at Aberdeen Park are heavy with young fruit. LGC continues to maintain these trees and look forward to many bountiful urban harvests.
This project informed and inspired LGC orchard plantings at Briggs and Riverside Park, as well as planting by several other groups in the City at Alexander Park, Blandford Farm, SECOM, MLK Park, New City Farm, Wellhouse and others.