Community orchard planted within Evergreen Cemetery

Live Well Montgomery County is celebrating the completion of a community orchard to help benefit the Red Oak community and the surrounding area.

In early October, 17 fruit trees, including apple, apricot, plum, pear, peach and cherry trees, and 10 fruit bushes, blackberry raspberry, and honeyberries, were planted at the community garden on the far eastern side of the Evergreen Cemetery. The funding was provided by a gratitude grant from the Elks National Foundation.

Laura Kloewer, President of the Live Well Montgomery County Board, said the idea for the orchard came from Red Oak Elks Lodge #1304 Exalted Ruler Brad Baker.

“Brad approached Live Well Montgomery County with the idea of getting some fruit trees and writing a grant with the Elks and asked us if it would be something we were interested in,” explained Kloewer. “The idea of improving access to food for lower income residents in Montgomery County, and increasing beyond just the vegetables to more fruits seemed like a win-win, and we jumped at the chance to work together on the grant and add the fruit trees.”

Baker said he and other members of the Elks felt there was a definite need to add more pounds of produce and fruits back into the community.

“Working up here at the cemetery gives me the opportunity to see up close what's being done, and the people who are involved. It struck a chord that maybe we could go after putting an orchard in, and it fit the parameters of the Elks National Foundation Gratitude grant,” advised Baker. “People contribute to that grant extra. It's not part of their dues, they simply choose to, and it funds grants back to the community and scholarships. We by far always get more back for our community than we give.”

Baker worked with Grimm's Gardens out of Nebraska City, Neb., to determine the proper fruit trees and bushes to bring to the orchard.

“Doug Grimm is an international arborist, and he was all kinds of into this program and wanted to help out. When we wrote the grant we were hopeful we'd get five to eight trees, and they were able to deliver 17 trees and 10 bushes and he's coming back next fall to do all the trimming and pruning and teaching the person who is assigned to the orchard how to do it properly so it will take off," commented Baker.

Kloewer said they are considering harvesting options for when the fruit trees and berry bushes produce their crop.

“We have volunteers with the Live Well Board and the community who take care of harvesting produce and donating it to food pantrie, and Acorn Acres, and here in the clinic. I would really like for the fruit to be available if someone is walking by and wants to pick apple or a peach to be able to do so, but we also want to have a strategy and process in place so we don’t have waste,” Kloewer said. “We’re going to encourage people to take something from a tree if they’re on a walk, and potentially having a designated pick day when one of the fruits is ready and invite the community up to pick, and we’ll also absolutely have to have volunteers who harvest the rest and make sure all the fruit and vegetables are getting into the hands of people who need it.”
With the cost of food going up, and donations tapering off at local food pantries, Kloewer said it’s incredibly important to have the orchard and garden to get fresh fruits and vegetables to people in need.
“What you eat is an incredibly important part of a person’s health, so making sure people have access to that is extremely critical. Also, a lot of the older population grew up having access to produce and providing that to them is really important,” stated Kloewer.
In addition to donating fruits and vegetables, Live Well Montgomery County is also providing education, such as container gardening classes at the food pantries in Red Oak and Elliott, and the Kids Garden program.
“We’re not just providing the vegetables, we’re also making sure we’re empowering people and showing them how they can grow things on their own, and showing them the preparation side of things, so they know what to do with it, and providing recipes on what to do with the produce when they receive it. The Kids Garden provides nutrition and cooking education, as well as hands-on experience, and cooking things that are seasonal,” explained Kloewer.
Kloewer says they don’t anticipate adding more trees in the future, but they have discussed the idea of putting a pollinator garden in place.
“That would help us with the produce in our garden, as well as the fruit trees. It really helps with the production of vegetables and trees, and we’ve discussed the idea of strategic pollinator plants around the garden, but at this point, we feel the trees that we’ve gotten are a good amount,” commented Kloewer.
With the existing community garden, and the new community orchard being funded entirely from grants, Kloewer stressed the importance of that funding to make projects such as these a reality.
“Without funding, projects like this are almost impossible. The grant writing process is something we’ve been doing since the beginning of the garden in 2015. Grant funding has been a part of the garden’s entire history,” Kloewer commented.
To be able to give back to the community with the new orchard and the garden, Kloewer said, is incredibly gratifying.
“Food insecurity is something we took on as an organization a few years ago, and was something we really wanted to focus on. It’s great to be able to donate fresh fruits and vegetables and give people access to the fresh fruits and vegetables they should have, as well as be able to cook them and know what to do with them. It’s very satisfying and it’s great to be out there and work,” Kloewer said.
Kloewer added being able to educate kids is a special feeling, especially since this is an agricultural area.
“A lot of kids don’t know where their food comes from. A lot of families don’t have gardens anymore and they don’t preserve their food. Being able to hand on some of that knowledge to the younger generation is really wonderful, and it’s overall a great experience,” Kloewer stated.
Like any local organization, Kloewer said Live Well Montgomery County relies heavily on volunteers.
“Seeing the community come together and support the project is really great. The mobile food pantry is another big project we do, and the way that has grown, and the way the community has supported it is incredible. We’ve reached the point now where we’re not having to seek out volunteers, they’re coming to us. Seeing the different community groups and businesses come together and support this kind of project is really endearing and wonderful,” Kloewer said.
Baker said he was pleased that the Elks could partner with Live Well Montgomery County on the orchard project.
"The city gives them the spot. The hospital folks do all of the legwork, and we're able to help a bit through the Elks and the cemetery. The cemetery did do the planting for them and got them in the ground and watered. It's been a good partnership on the new orchard, and it's been a great partnership overall with the community garden," Baker commented.
Last year, the community garden donated 1,290 pounds of produce. This year, the total was 1,500 pounds. Now that the orchard is in place, Kloewer expects those numbers to keep going up.

The Red Oak Express

2012 Commerce Drive
P.O. Box 377
Red Oak, IA 51566
Phone: 712-623-2566 Fax: 712-623-2568

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