Brett Kihlmire

The City of Orchards

Mayor Barrett and others attend groundbreaking of city’s 5th urban orchard on 1st and Locust.

By - Jul 15th, 2014 04:09 pm
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The Peoples Orchard. Photo by Brett Kihlmire.

The Peoples Orchard. Photo by Brett Kihlmire.

It was long a vacant lot along Locust Street between 1st and 2nd streets, used, if at all, as a trash dump, but it’s now gaining a new life as the officially entitled “People’s Orchard.” Instead of weeds, more than 60 fruit trees will be growing in the lot along Locust, a small orchard in the midst of the city.

The culmination of efforts between the All Peoples Church, the City of Milwaukee, the Victory Garden Initiative (VGI), and other community stakeholders, the orchard is one of many such projects sprouting up through Milwaukee. Designed with the ambition of providing fresh, healthy, and sustainable food for the community, the People’s Orchard is one of five urban orchards planted throughout Milwaukee as a result of the VGI’s “Fruity Nutty Campaign” and the city’s HOME GR/OWN initiative.

“It is our hope we can stitch together parts Milwaukee through food and resilient trees,” said Victory Garden Initiative’s spokesperson Ellie Jackson at a public groundbreaking ceremony that also featured neighborhood Ald. Milele Coggs, Mayor Tom Barrett, and Pastor Steve Jerbi.

Jerbi and his church have led the way in creating the orchard. For almost two decades the People’s Church has been developing sustainable agriculture around the church, installing raised garden beds and a greenhouse and then pushing to create city orchards.

Jerbi spoke of the biblical tree of life that bore fruit throughout the year and healed with its leaves. The People’s Orchard is meant to be a cornerstone in the rejuvenation of the Harambee neighborhood, named with the Swahili word for “all come together.”

Planted in February of 2014 and maintained by local area children participating in educational programs organized by the Victory Garden Initiative, the orchard already features a small collection of apple trees and berry producing shrubs. Future plans include planting sugar maple trees, grape vines, currant bushes, gooseberry bushes and wild hazelnuts trees. The orchard will use natural rainwater with a gravity fed drip irrigation system, two rainwater harvesting areas, and a bio-swale to naturally filter rainwater runoff. There will also be an open gathering place in the orchard.

In her speech, Coggs recalled growing up not too far from the lot in which the orchard has been planted and participating in a similar agriculture program. From that experience, Coggs expressed hope that the effort to maintain the orchard will not only beautify and bring positive change to the neighborhood but teach the community’s youth valuable skills.

With a shovel in hand, Coggs joined Jerbi, the mayor and a group of enthusiastic children in breaking first ground at the People’s Orchard. As the dirt flew, cheers rang out.

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One thought on “The City of Orchards”

  1. John says:

    I had stopped by there wondering what the event was. I am a strong advocate for rethinking the use of all the vacant properties in the city. I can’t see how there could be any opposition to this kind of low cost land use. I had just come from the Urban Ecology Center for a Earth Partnership class. I am going to talk about this program with colleagues.

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