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Community orchard coming to fruition

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By AJ Vicens

The community orchard that started as a seed of hope in Shirl Smith’s heart is coming to fruition.

Four planter beds and rows of wooden stakes crisscross a vacant field just southeast of Waterstone Community Church on West Bowles Avenue. More than 130 trees will be planted within the next week or two, transforming the field into a patch of life and hope.

Smith has developed just over 2 of the 4 acres the church donated for the project, with only minor changes to her original design. Her plan for blueberries was scrapped after she concluded they wouldn’t do well on the site, but she added more grapes in their place.

Smith has been working on the idea for months. Last, December, she created a nonprofit called Feeding Many Inc., which is focused on planting gardens to not only feed people but to teach them how to support themselves through gardening.

“It’s pretty cool,” Smith said April 3, the day before the bulk of the trees was set to arrive. “The most important thing is how much I can make this benefit the people.”

Smith’s plan is to grow fruits and vegetables and distribute the produce to the needy. Many of the trees won’t bear fruit their first year, but Smith and the church have received calls from community members who will donate fruits and vegetables to supplement the first harvest of strawberries, potatoes, grapes and raspberries.

The project still needs support, though.

“We need donations,” Smith said, referring to the type of green she can’t grow in the ground. “Money has come to a standstill.”

Smith says she has spent more than $8,000 of her own money on the project, which will cost a total of $31,000. Smith says $16,000 has been donated through in-kind contributions.

The project has been getting more attention recently, however. The Littleton Garden Club gave Smith a $500 grant, and people stop by at random to offer their labor. The orchard even has landed on the radar screen of Jeffco Commissioner Kathy Hartman, who says she will pitch in whenever she can.

“I’m a gardener,” Hartman said. “I don’t get as much time as I would like on it, but I really love the idea of using the vacant space around the church to plant a community orchard that will provide fresh fruit for food banks and others in need.”

Hartman said the number who have volunteered for the project is encouraging.

“I’m impressed with the people putting in all of the work,” Hartman said. “Because I grow fruit, I know there is going to be a ton of work in the summer and fall harvesting it all, but I’m really excited there’s a group of volunteers willing to do this. It will provide some really badly needed fresh food.”

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.

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To pitch in on Shirl Smith’s community fruit orchard, call 303-862-4339, or e-mail Smith at shirl.smith@feedingmany.org.