When the supporters behind the Cedar Valley Arboretum in Waterloo proposed the idea of adding an orchard to the arboretum’s comprehensive plan more than 25 years ago, they didn’t realize that one day, they’d be helping feed thousands of locals.
The Black Hawk County Master Gardeners assisted arboretum volunteers in planting the orchard, which is divided into four quadrants consisting of apples, pears, cherries and plums. While the trees won’t begin producing a minor crop of fruit for a few more years and won’t reach full production thresholds by 2022, it will be harvested by volunteers and donated to the Northeast Iowa Food Bank.
Vaughn Griffith, who not only is a master gardener, but also volunteers at the arboretum and food pantry, said the idea for an arboretum surfaced in the late 1980s. The plan was developed in 1991 for the arboretum, which included a one-acre orchard. Other aspects of the arboretum were constructed first, such as an educational center, artscapes and a butterfly garden.
But this spring, the first batch of 100 trees were finally planted for the orchard by a couple dozen Black Hawk Master Gardeners and other volunteers. Upwards of 45 youth and adults pitched in.
“There were six or seven planning subcommittees who worked on this project. They had to consider such things as location of the orchard in proximity to water, the soil type, types of trees. Once all the details were mapped out, we planted trees,” Griffith said. “We hope that we get at least 85 out of the 100 to grow. We will plant more so we have upwards of 144 trees.”
Within each type of fruit are three to seven species that have staggered harvest periods to help ensure a crop from early spring to November, Griffith said. Master gardeners and arboretum volunteers hope that the public will come check out the fruit trees, ask questions about their production, help with the care and harvest and maybe even plant a few in their own backyard.
“We’re considering a Saturday picking seminar, a pruning seminar and other ideas,” Griffith said.
Justin Edwards, coordinator of the master gardeners program through Black Hawk County Extension, said it’s a great arrangement to have the fruit crop donated to the food bank to help supplement their food supply for local families. Barb Prather, executive director of the Northeast Iowa Food Bank, said they are one of several groups in the Cedar Valley area who are addressing food security issues. This particular arrangement will help them sustain their supply with local produce.
“It’s a win-win,” Prather said. “It’s really, truly amazing for us. We have access to fruits and vegetables from other parts of the country, since we’re part of Feeding America, but the more we can get locally, the cheaper it is for us. This partnership is really incredible for us.”
Prather said there are 48,000 food insecure people in their service area and the food bank tries to get as much food to them as they can. Between their eight programs, last year they gave 8 million pounds of food away.
“The donation of fresh, locally grown fruit will help us reach our goal to make our community food secure. Our food bank alone serves 2,200 families every month. People don’t really realize how big of an issue it is,” she said.
Danley-Greiner is a freelance writer from Runnells.