How Well House Planted an Orchard

Reposted from Grand Rapids Urban Forest Project

By Camilla Voelker

On November 9th the Well House gardeners and 27 others planted a 15-tree orchard of apples and pears on the property of one of the newest additions to the Well House homes and gardens, 239 Sycamore SE.

WELL HOUSE IS A NEIGHBORHOOD NON-PROFIT nested in the southeast side of Grand Rapids. South of Wealthy and east of Division, we offer safe and affordable housing to people experiencing homelessness. It is not a shelter, but permanent housing. Currently, we have four houses occupied by people who were living in shelters or on the streets.

Aside from the housing component of Well House, we also grow, prepare, and preserve food primarily for and with our tenants, but also for and with our neighbors and community. With a food justice lens, we are working towards growing as much food as we can in an urban setting and sharing knowledge on preparing and preserving our own food to counter the unhealthy options provided to us. . We believe our current food system inadequately provides healthy, nutritious food options for people, especially those in our neighborhood. So working with the folks who are most marginalized by our current food system is important to us in creating change.

Finding out about the mini grants offered through the Urban Forest Project of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks, which supplies materials, support and trees for reforestation projects within the city, was a natural next step for continuing Well House’s vision for food growing. An Urban Orchard had been envisioned for the 239 Sycamore lot–which we had acquired from the Land Bank of Kent County–and it also hosts a home to be rehabilitated to house families that have been experiencing homelessness.

Expecting about 15 volunteers on this day, we were pleasantly surprised and thankful for the 27 that showed up – quite the opposite turn out than what most volunteer coordinators anticipate! With all of the fabulous volunteers, we managed to prepare the site quite quickly: trash was picked up, sod was dug up and hauled away, and holes were prepared.

Two Citizen Foresters who offered demonstrations on proper planting techniques and fruit tree care guided us into planting, adding fresh soil and mulching in the trees. Another volunteer watered them in, leaving a job well done. And as one volunteer noted, “Many hands make light work.” It surely did; the community support left a tremendous imprint on Well House’s project and spirit. We are so grateful.