A partnership with the Ashe County Farmer’s Market and the Out Grow Hunger Program increased the potential for growth as a new orchard was installed at Ashe County High School last month.
“Out Grow hunger is an initiative of Ashe Outreach Ministries through which the ultimate goal is to join a community together through growing and giving,” said the program’s development manager Jane Gardener.
Agriculture extension agent Travis Birdsell said, “One goal of the Out Grow Hunger program is to have a perennial orchard through which students can connect with the food they are eating.”
Eventually, the hope is that the orchards will provide enough food that every child in the school will have access to fresh fruit for a healthy snack, said Birdsell.
The orchard at ACHS is the fourth orchard made possible by this program, with three others at the county’s elementary schools planted last spring. The orchards are designed the same way with the same plants, so that as the students progress from school to school, they will have a sense of continuity.
According to Daniel Calhoun, the horticulture teacher, the high school’s orchard is comprised of two pear trees, two peach trees, eight apple trees, two cherry trees and 10 blueberry bushes provided by Ron and Suzanne Joiner, John Roberts and Glen Sullivan.
“Most of the plants will bear fruit in the late summer months when the students are coming back from summer break. We hope to add three more early-fruiting apple trees that would bear fruit in May before they leave for summer,” said Calhoun. Gardener said they also intend to add raspberry bushes so the orchard can have a full variety of fruit.
The results, while promising, will not be immediate.
“The reality of it is that it will probably be three to four years before the trees start producing fruit, but in the meantime, we’re hoping we’ll have other opportunities, maybe through the farmer’s market, to bring fresh fruit into the schools so that students can get an idea of the different varieties of fruit they’ll eventually be producing,” said Gardener.
“Our seniors probably won’t see fruit on the trees, but they can know they had a part in getting it started and can come back years from now and see how it has progressed,” Calhoun said.
“The orchard is a great learning lab for students to see the little things they can do to affect the plants’ growth from soil fertility to pruning. It is also an opportunity to provide food not only to the student body but to the community as well, so what the orchard does extends beyond the students I see in class,” said Calhoun.
Birdsell, who works in conjunction with classes on educational programs, said, “Within the horticulture classes, students learn to prune and graft the trees. This process must be completed every year, so each new group of students gets a graft from a tree that they can then plant at home.”
“The great thing about this program is that it connects kids from across all different socioeconomic backgrounds with the common ground of growing food,” said Birdsell.
The orchards are only part of what Out Grow Hunger does.
In an effort to eliminate food insecurity, address child nutrition and empower the poor, Out Grow Hunger gives out fresh local produce through food pantries and uses it in preparing community meals and mobile meals. The program also educates participants about the ability to provide food by growing a garden and provides classes for gardening skills, cooking, and preserving.
For more information on the Out Grow Hunger initiative visit http://soc.brwia.org/out-grow-hunger.html.