The semester ends and so do those hard-earned student projects. But not so for Richard Olson’s SENS 215 course. On the evening of November 14, students of Olson’s Sustainable Appalachian Communities course gathered in the Berea Friend’s Meeting House to showcase their projects and gather further participation. There was an Adopt-a-Potato station, where you could sign up to receive a variety of heirloom potatoes to grow and record useful information about, a beginning seed library for volunteer seed-savers, a skills-share directory and a food swap. A can of my homemade green tomato salsa was traded for a backyard-grown African Butternut squash. There was even a raffle for several different varieties of fruit trees and a backyard composter.
Says Olson, “By doing projects that increase the resilience of the city of Berea, students gain the knowledge and skills they will need to contribute to the resilience of their future communities. Experiential learning – learning by doing – is not only an effective teaching strategy, but it allows us to address serious threats now.”
The seeds of community-building were sown. Now it’s up to the ‘townies’ to make sure they take root. The Edible Tree Street Project, for example, will require maintenance from community members such as pruning, keeping the trees mulched and weed free, as well as occasionally applying fertilizer. Planted along the Ecovillage’s Food Forest site, the new trees include two different strains of pecans, two different varieties of papaws, persimmons, jujubes and a mulberry. Except for the pecans, which require longer to fruit, all of these should start producing in five years or so.
Created in the fall of 2003, the initial food forest is already producing mulberries, hazelnuts, apples, peaches and persimmons. Says Olson, “We don’t have yield data because anyone is welcome to pick and that includes squirrels.”
This visionary effort to provide Berea with free fruit is one of many popping up nationwide. In Seattle, a new 7 acre food forest has been installed on Beacon Hill, featuring apples, pears, plums, grapes, blueberries, raspberries and more.
City planners and citizens often imagine planting fruit trees will result in a lot of rotting fruit, but residents usually snag the produce before it ever hits the ground. After all, who doesn’t love free fruit?
Actually, the majority of wasted fruit resides on private land. One group called Portland Fruit has organized to rescue this unused resource and redistribute it, All producing tree owners who join their database agree to call in 2 weeks prior to the fruit ripening, and Portland Fruit organizes harvest parties which rove from tree to tree. Half of the fruit harvested is split between the pickers, half goes to food pantries. So far they've harvested over 70,000 pounds of fresh fruit a year that otherwise might have gone to waste.
In addition to the new plantings, Berea has black walnuts, pecans, plums, serviceberries, gooseberries, pears, elderberries, and chestnuts to look forward to in the future. Residents interested in this, or any of the previous class projects mentioned, should contact Richard Olson at Berea College.