[Author Alexandria Moore is a resident of Orange Mound and High Ground News Community Correspondent. Correspondents are everyday people trained in the basics of neighborhood reporting who have deep roots to the communities they cover.]
“It is our hope to increase access to nutritious foods and provide a consistent harvest within the next couple of years." — Takiyah Hunter Chew, co-founder, Orange Mound Orchard
Did you know there is an orchard in Orange Mound? As a kid growing up in the city, I always thought of an orchard being somewhere far out in the county.
Six months ago, I was surprised to find out about this orchard close to where I live.
Rachel Jones, Debra Lockard, and Takiyah Hunter Chew are the co-founders of Orange Mound Orchard.
"The urban orchard and garden beautifies the neighborhood, provides a source of recreation, provides nutritious food, educates the community members and serves as a beautiful greenspace encouraging a reduction of blight and crime,” said Jones, who is a master gardener and co-owner of The Coolnerds home school program.
Lockard is a master gardener and farmer who owns the Lockard Produce farm based in Ripley, Tennessee. Chew’s parents own the land at 1166 Semmes Avenue where the Orange Mound orchard is located.
The first crops were planted October 27, 2020.
Chew said they are still learning the orchard, and there has yet to be a harvest because the plants are still maturing. It currently consists of two peach trees and three blackberry bushes.
Chew said that within three to five years, the plants will be able to produce up to 360 pounds of fresh fruit a year.
“It is our hope to increase access to nutritious foods and provide a consistent harvest within the next couple of years," noted Chew.
Left to right: Candous Brown, Rachel Jones, Takiyah Chew, and Debra Lockhard pose for a portrait at the new Orange Mound Orchard and community garden. Behind them, young volunteers tend to the beds. May 2021. (Ziggy Mack)
Chew said the idea for the orchard came about during a time of prayer for her as she asked what to do about the lot. It had been vacant for decades, and she wanted to see more for the land.
Chew, who knew Lockard, met Jones by happenstance in February 2019 at a farm to table conference, and her idea became a reality.
The orchard was launched through a partnership with Memphis Tilth’s Giving Grove program and an Empowerment Grant of $2,500 from Community LIFT awarded in July 2020.
Giving Grove addresses food access problems through education and supporting community orchards. Dana Needelman is the program manager of the Giving Grove program.
Giving Grove will help train volunteers in skills for effective support towards the orchard's success. They'll also provide volunteers when needed.
“An important part of the Giving Grove program is that when we plant an orchard, we work with stewards from the community to take care of the orchard," said Needelman.
The stewards are taught how to prune the trees, how to water them, how to scout for diseases and pests, and other maintenance tasks. Each orchard site has to have at least two stewards that are committed to the ongoing maintenance of the orchard.
The fruit trees and the orchard will require a lot of maintenance. Important factors like fruit quality and longevity of the orchard require careful preparation and organization before planting begins.
“In the first five years of the trees being planted, they require a lot of watering and attention to pruning so they grow in a shape that will be healthy for them to grow into. So the first five years, the stewards have to spend time in the orchard once a week, and then recruit volunteers to work on getting bigger projects done, such as mulching the trees and pruning the trees, which happens twice a year,” said Needelman.
Young volunteers chat as they await their task assignments at the new Orange Mound Orchard and community garden. May 2021. (Ziggy Mack)
How can the public get their hands on produce from the orchard? A portion of the fruit will be available during twice-yearly harvest days.
Equally important, those engaged in the orchard's care have the opportunity to soak up knowledge on growing, nurturing, and reaping fruit crops.
“The orchard serves to eliminate blight and provide a presence that will encourage others to grow their own food," said Chew.
There is also a garden growing alongside the orchard. The grounds are maintained year round by the co-founders, students, and Giving Grove staff.
The Coolnerds utilized the garden as an outside learning space for students.
“Last year was our first growing season, and the students used the garden’s harvest in a class assignment to create healthy meals,” said Chew.
Crops used from the garden for the meals included yams, red and green tomatoes, and onions.
The orchards’ leaders plan to make additions to it each season.
"Our orchard is established to share the importance of learning to grow and eat healthy food, to sustain a healthy way of living, and learn the various educational/career opportunities in agriculture," said Lockard.