Written by: Shelly Strom (Community GroundWorks)
“We have so much in common!” chortled my 6-year-old tree-planting buddy on a cold morning in April. Together we were planting fruit trees near Kennedy Elementary School with dozens of other students, all happily digging in for future fruit. Blake was thrilled to discover that we both love cherry trees, a passion transcending differences of age, gender, culture and zip codes. Though just a kindergartner, his wise words perfectly captured the essence of Community Groundworks’ community food project: community orchards strengthen the food system and champion community connections.
Located in Madison, Wisconsin on 26 acres of urban green space, Community GroundWorks (CGW) is a nonprofit organization that connects people to nature and local food. First established in 2001 as Troy Gardens, Community GroundWorks serves diverse communities at its “home” site as well as at schools, community centers and community gardens throughout Dane County and beyond. Through hands-on education, children and adults learn gardening, urban farming, healthful eating and environmental stewardship. The community orchards project perfectly integrates these elements with our organization’s pillars: “growing food, growing minds, together.”
“The original intent of the Orchards Project was to create 5-8 small urban orchards in the Madison area at the intersection of interest and need,” said Karen von Huene, Executive Director of Community GroundWorks. “With every program we manage, we make it a priority to seek out and cultivate relationships with underrepresented populations within the city. A key objective of this project was to create a series of models to inform future projects in a wide variety of location types: schools, public parks, apartment complexes, gardens and neighborhoods.”
“We were able to creatively integrate this project with other initiatives of Community GroundWorks,” added Shelly Strom, Land and Gardens Director of Community Groundworks and project facilitator. “We were fostering project with staff and residents at schools, at community centers, at low-income housing sites and parks,” said Strom, “and fruit trees created this perfect invitation for community engagement. Everyone has a story about their favorite fruits and eating an apple, pear or mulberries straight off a tree. People have all these wonderful memories around fresh and local food.”
So far, the CGW Orchard Project has supported 27 orchard projects – and counting! – with seasonal education, consultation, design and implementation, staffing tree-planting events and convening community celebration. The project was kick-started in April 2014 by an anonymous donation through the Madison Community Foundation (MCF) providing additional trees and supplies for schools. The synergy between the Innovation grant and the MCF donation allowed CGW staff to amplify project impact. In sum, Community GroundWorks has fostered mini-orchards at 17 school sites, four community centers serving low-income youth and families, two low-income housing sites and several community gardens including Troy Gardens and the Goodman Youth Farm – both programs of Community Groundworks that in combination engage more than 3,000 kids, adults and families each year.
Sandburg Elementary School on Madison’s northside recently held a grand Tree Assembly in honor of its new community orchard. All 453 kids, plus teachers, parents, neighbors and government officials gathered outside the school to sing tree songs, recite tree poetry and celebrate the cherry, plums, apples, pears, quince, aronia, grapes and honeyberries planted by students on their school campus.
This June, Community GroundWorks will host a Mulberry Festival to complement its Community Pi(e) Day held in March and Autumn Apple-Cider Day. These events, combined with growing fruit trees together, highlight the powerful common points of our community and discover shared foodways… exactly what that kindergartner already knows.
Learn more about Community GroundWorks: http://www.communitygroundworks.org/