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Sweet, crisp community strategy

Parks & Rec board approves Emmet County wellness coalition's edible orchard idea

By Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer | Oct 15, 2020

From the Sept. 17 issue of the Estherville News — look for an update on the edible orchard in an upcoming issue.

For a year or more, the Emmet County Wellness Coalition has been working on a Healthy Communities strategy with Wellmark. Among its ideas for promoting wellness in the county is that of edible orchards. Communities with edible orchards plant fruit trees in public spaces like city parks, making fresh fruit, in season, available to anyone. According to city administrator Penny Clayton, yes someone could come in and take bushels away to put up, to make into sauce, breads, cakes, pies and cider. The ethic is to take only what your household can use and leave the rest for others, but community members would be encouraged to take what they really want, because fallen, unpicked apples could quickly become sort of a mess.

The city would purchase young trees, and it would be five years or more before they would be mature enough to bear fruit. It is an investment in the future.

Community orchards have become increasingly popular in the U.S during the last decade: they have existed in the U.K, Portugal and other European countries since the 1990s. The movement is called urban food forestry, and researchers Kyle Clark and Kimberly A. Nicholas believe it is not a passing trend, but will contribute to sustainable living in communities and help cities faced with challenges like food security, climate change, and poverty.

Community orchards can bring fresh fruit to low-income communities, encourage local residents to live more sustainably, grow food for food banks, build community in the area surrounding the orchard, bring people into the parks and public spaces, and contribute to better health and nutrition in the community.

Fruit trees provide fruit and also shade. They improve water quality, keep harmful gases out of the atmosphere and may even deter crime. A study published in Scientific Journal’s publication Landscape and Urban Planning looked at crime rates in a specific urban area, combining geocoded crime point data and tree canopy data. Researchers found there is a strong inverse relationship between fruit tree canopy and the index of robbery, burglary, theft and shooting. In other words, there is some evidence that a fruit tree orchard could induce some would-be criminals to put down their weapons and burglary tools to eat an apple instead.

Unlike a community garden, which can provide lettuce, tomatoes or cucumbers for a day, trees can last for decades and provide everbearing bounties of fruit.

Fruit trees provide habitat for birds and insects, and shade for those of us on the ground. Tree roots help stem erosion and trees grow from drawing carbon in the atmosphere to produce oxygen.

According to the agriculture writer Alastair Bland, the presence of a tree, the constancy of the tree, has a spiritual element as well.

The Estherville Parks & Rec board did not decide on a specific location for or size of the edible orchard, but agreed with the premise that an edible orchard could benefit people in Estherville.