New Teaching Orchard offers gardening and growing classes to the community By Taylor Shillam | Photo by Kate Painter
On the grounds of Trinity Lutheran Church on Buchanan Street sits a community garden, created to make local healthy food more accessible to the community. That garden was created by GROW!: Gardeners for Regional Organic Well-being.
Now in its 13th year serving Boundary County, GROW!'s mission remains to support and expand the local food system while encouraging sustainable agricultural methods. They do so by providing fresh produce to area food banks and providing gardening education to the community, among other services. This year, its community garden will be enhanced by the addition of a 40-tree organic orchard.
The Organic Demonstration and Teaching Fruit Orchard has been spearheaded by GROW! Board Member Art Church, who has ample experience developing successful orchards in Idaho. Along with other local experts, Church will lead the orchard's educational series, Gardening with GROW!, highlighting a selection of topics related to orchard planning and organic pest management, and more, beginning in January 2022.
At 79, Art Church has been working in orchards and gardens for most of his life. After several years with GROW!, he was inspired to bring a series of classes to the GROW! community to impart some knowledge on locals and visitors on how to grow a garden or start an orchard. "It struck me one day that we’re losing a lot of our knowledge as the new generations come along," he said.
Within the influx of newcomers to North Idaho, Church noticed a common lack of knowledge regarding how to give back to the land, grow produce, and live a simpler life. "The learning process can be hard and painful," Church admitted, but with his series of classes offered through GROW!, he hopes to help lessen the pain of that learning curve.
"People would love to have fruit trees and don’t know what they need or how to get started," he said, naming peaches, nectarines, figs, pomegranates, pawpaws, jujubes, goji berries and pluerries as fruits that many don't believe to be possible to grow in North Idaho but can actually be easy to grow with the right knowledge and tools. A pluerry, he noted, is a golf ball-sized cross between a plum and a cherry. "It's the best thing you ever ate in your life—a really sweet plum with a nice cherry aftertaste."
Church also noted the misconceptions surrounding what it takes to grow an orchard. "People often think of commercial apple orchards full of 25- to 30-foot trees, but that's not what we want for a home orchard," he said.
"We decided we would plant an orchard using modern technique, with trees only 7- to 8-feet tall, kept small and pruned carefully for maximum production of really large fruit. You can grow an amazing amount of fruit in a small area," he assured. "In a 4-foot space, you can have multiple varieties of apples, peaches, etc., with plenty for the family and enough to share with the neighbors."
Gardening with GROW! classes will be held at the Kootenai River Casino every few weeks, with topics including Planting a Garden in Boundary County, Growing Small Fruits in Boundary County, and Local Pollinators. The capacity for each class will be capped at 25 students to allow for COVID precautions.
Church remains active in his own flower and vegetable gardens, where visitors are always welcome to stop in and pick a bouquet. He shared his vision for the Organic Demonstration and Teaching Orchard to be a place to welcome people to the Boundary County community.
Church looks forward to sharing his array of knowledge to help others get involved in bringing back Monarch butterflies and endangered pollinators like orchard mason bees, improve the land, and simply "make this place better than it was when we got here." Follow along with GROW! Community Garden on Facebook to be the first to know about the online registration period opening for classes.
With the addition of the orchard, GROW! assures that organically prepared plots and raised beds will still be available to rent at the Community Garden, and their commitment to the community will remain strong.
“We will continue in our mission to expand the availability of local, healthy food to our community by donating a portion of the organic fruit to our local food banks. We may also sell a portion of the fruit to help fund the continued success of both the orchard and the community garden," shared volunteer Nicole Goodfriend.
They also remain thankful for the community support that has made its initiatives possible. “We would like to extend thanks to Trinity Lutheran Church for allowing us to create this community garden on their property 13 years ago,” Goodfriend said. “This generous arrangement allows us to continue to fulfill our work in Boundary County, where we have been ‘Helping Feed Neighbors in Need’ since 2009!"
GROW! is a 501c3 nonprofit that continues to accept donations to help with the expenses of planting the new orchard. Supporters can visit GROWBoundaryCounty.org to make a secure online donation, or send a check by mail to PO Box 1433, Bonners Ferry, ID 83805.