FARGO — There’s an important lesson growing in Rahanus Park.
Growing Together Community Gardens collaborated with North Dakota State University Extension Service to plant a community orchard Thursday, June 18, at the World Garden, 4215 19th Ave. S. Fruit from the apple, pear, plum, and sour cherry trees will be shared with public shareholders and local food pantries.
Kayla Carlson, urban extension agent for NDSU Extension Cass County, wrote the $3,115 grant for the community orchard, funded through the North Dakota Department of Agriculture.
“A primary focus of my position is working to enhance our local food system,” Carlson said. “A couple of the key components to enhancing local food systems include shortening the supply chain and sourcing locally, both of which can be achieved through a community orchard.”
When she reached out to Jack Wood, cofounder and president of Growing Together Community Gardens, she said he was immediately onboard and offered up the organization’s World Garden as a possible site. An agreement was reached with Fargo Park Board to utilize the land.
“The World Garden is an ideal location as it is easily accessible, central to our metro area, and serves the vulnerable populations we were wanting to reach,” she said.
It’s also part of a greater mission meant to serve a greater need.
“Although this project was started before the pandemic, the current situation has resulted in a need that is even more prevalent now than before,” Carlson said. “We expect an estimated 17 million more Americans will become food insecure as a result of COVID-19 and, locally, the Great Plains Food Bank has indicated that their pantries have seen a 44% increase, and their mobile pantries have seen a 79% increase.”
Carlson said they were also awarded a partnering $500 North Dakota Nutrition Council Mini Grant to offer food preservation classes for the World Garden and community orchard, scheduled to start in August. They’re in the process of applying for an additional grant to expand on educational signage at the orchard.
Wood said he hopes the World Garden shareholders will help take care of the orchard, at least in part, but it’s open to anyone.
“It is a public orchard,” Wood said. “We would like the people who take the fruit to do some kind of sweat equity or volunteer some hours.”
Volunteers will be trained on how to prune and water the trees, he said, which is part of the educational component of the venture. It's also a massive collaborative effort.
Wood applauded Carlson’s part in the project.
“She’s definitely a very savvy grant writer,” Wood said.
Don Kinzler, an agent with NDSU Extension for Cass County Horticulture, helped select the fruit trees best-adapted to the growing region.
“That would include the types of trees,” Kinzler said, “plus how to plant and maintain.”
To grow a successful orchard in the North Dakota climate, Kinzler chose seven varieties of apple trees, as well as two of pear, two of sour cherry, and four of plum. In total, there are 20 trees.
The focus is on apple trees because they have a productive lifespan of 40 to 50 years, he said, compared to, say, a plum tree which might last less than 20.
The trees bear useful fruit, he said, but the early-blossoming varieties are also important for pollinators and bees.
“Of course, bees and pollinators are responsible for a lot of our food crops,” he said.
By planting fruit trees, he said, you’re part of the overall cycle of nature.
“To keep the whole food system going well,” Kinzler said.
And that, as the many collaborators of the community orchard will tell you, is the ultimate goal of the entire project. They aim to reach it one tree at a time.