'Urban Garden' turns vacant lot into fruitful orchard

CREATED Jul 14, 2014

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MILWAUKEE - There are more than 2,000 empty lots in the city of Milwaukee, but one of those empty lots on Locust between 1st and 2nd is being turned into an urban orchard, providing fruit that will keep on giving.  

It is a part of Mayor Tom Barrett's "Home Gr/own Initiative" to help re-purpose vacant lots into community assets.

“We know that we've got an issue with foreclosed properties and with vacant lots now so we're trying to make the best of it," Barrett said.

And thanks to partnerships with All Peoples Church and the Victory Garden Initiative, the “People's Orchard” is already beginning to bloom.

All Peoples Church Senior Pastor Steve Jerbi explained the plans to TODAY’S TMJ4’s Jesse Ritka: “It's right along Locust Street here and we already have our first phase planted where we've got fruit and nut trees planted here on the corner of Locust and 1st.”

Instead of weeds, more than 60 fruit trees will be growing in the lot along Locust, with only a few reminders that it is actually still in the city.

Victory Garden Initiative Program Manager Ellie Jackson is excited about the orchard, “It’s a resilient project, so this is the beginning of what could be hundreds of years of these trees growing and fruiting and we actually have some apples starting already and these were just planted in April; so it doesn't take that much work to keep them alive.”

And its up to All Peoples Church and the neighborhood to help keep them alive.  Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs grew up a few blocks away from the planned orchard and remembers the benefits of growing up with fruit trees herself, “The young people that get to work on the orchard I think will have an experience like no other, and having help to bring this to life, because right now they're small little trees. But as they grow, these trees will grow too, so having known that they had a hand in that growth will be tremendous.”

The church, kids and neighbors who help tend to the orchard will literally get to taste the fruits of their labors.  Picking not only apples, but a potential future career. The Alderwoman explains, “The hope is that the young people...working on the orchard will gain a knowledge base that will help in employment afterwards as well.”

And not just in agriculture - storm water management will be incorporated as well .Pastor Jerbi adds, “We've got this very steep hill and so we want to do some native planting so that when the water comes down after a heavy rain or when the snow starts to melt that it gets caught by native grasses and native plants.”

They are also partnering with MMSD for all of the rainwater that comes down this hill, it will be collected in a cistern so they can use that rain to water the orchard later on in the season.