Community orchards bring benefits to community

·3 min read

The City of Grande Prairie is inviting residents to its orchards to learn more about the fruits in the South Peace and how to harvest them best.

“We're highlighting orchards all around the city and encouraging residents to participate,” said Jessica Foley, city engagement advisor.

“There's a lot of edible species here that are native to our region, so it's important to plant those native species and also to be able to have that produce growing in an orchard.”

The city’s orchards are established and producing fruits for the community, she explained.

Haskaps, cherries, apples, pears, saskatoons, raspberries, plums, rhubarb, goji berries, and grapes are among the fruits available in city orchards.

The city has had a series of tours at different orchards throughout the summer and will have the final tour on Sept. 7 at Dalen Park.

The tours have an orchard expert on hand to help residents learn about what’s growing in local orchards, when to harvest certain fruits, and what pests they may encounter.

“We also like to highlight to residents that they could be planting these in their backyards,” said Foley.

The Sept. 7 tour will also have more information on putting your garden or orchard to bed before the fall cold.

The city has 15 orchards which the community is encouraged to go and harvest from, said Foley.

She noted that many people drive by many of the orchards, not realizing they are there.

“They don't realize it's an orchard every single day, then they go into it, and they're like, wow, there's pears and cherries and apples here.

“There's quite a variety.”

The city orchards came as part of the edible landscape policy, which saw the city putting a focus on fruit-bearing trees, shrubs, and bushes throughout the city.

In 2015, the city began planting its orchards.

Community orchards also exist in Beaverlodge and Sexsmith next to the community gardens.

Last year Beaverlodge planted 13 fruit trees near the community garden, and Gena Jones, Beaverlodge councillor, noted it appears they survived the winter.

“If you drive by, you can see the tiny little cherries on them, so some of them do have fruit, but they actually look pretty healthy,” said Jones.

Beaverlodge also uses the community garden to supply the food bank, noted Jones, and there is a hope to expand the garden in the future.

Sexsmith’s community garden introduced fruit trees about three years ago, said Melody Sample, Sexsmith Wellness Co-ordinator.

Other fruit trees in the town have not fared well in the winter, she explained; recently the ones in the community garden had to be moved to make room for new railroad tracks.

Sample hopes to have more fruit trees planted in Sexsmith but is working on getting grants to do such a project.

“It's our intention to plant a bit of an orchard over there by the gardens,” said Sample.

“We think it's a great idea to add such a thing to communities; I think it's important to learn how to grow our own food and source what we can locally,” said Sample.

The benefits of the orchards are seen by many.

“When it's in a community, you can also provide a food resource to people, and then there's a huge education component because some people don't realize that you can grow pears in Grande Prairie, and we're doing it,” said Foley.

Jones, a former teacher, agrees the orchards create an excellent educational purpose.

“I know that the Grade 6 (students) study trees and forests, and the Grade 4’s also study gardens and growing things,” said Jones.

Foley noted an additional benefit of orchards in the city has been an increase of bees as they can be good pollinators.

Foley says as time goes on, more bushes and trees are being added to the orchards calling it an “ongoing” project.

To find a city orchard, people can visit cityofgp.com/orchards for more information on the tours. The tours are free and do not require any registration.

Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News

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