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County orchard feeds those in need

Research orchard grows knowledge and feeds the hungry

Susan Kentroti
Susan Kentroti volunteers at the Hidden Mesa Open Space Research and Demonstration Orchard.

 

Not long after the County integrated edible plants into its research and demonstration orchard, an idea was born. Why not share the harvest with a local nonprofit that serves families and individuals in need?

Planted in 2011 on a four-acre plot in Hidden Mesa Open Space, the orchard began with help from volunteer master gardeners from the Colorado State University Extension-Douglas County Office, who, in 2012, began regularly donating fruits, nuts and vegetables to the Parker Task Force.

Between April and October of 2015, a record 4,300 pounds of food was given to the Task Force so that the organization could help feed people in need.

“The research and demonstration orchard serves multiple purposes, mainly to study the ability to grow hundreds of varieties of vegetables, fruits and nuts in the unique climate along the Front Range,” said County Commissioner Roger Partridge. “A reflection of our strong agricultural history in this region, the orchard not only serves as a place of research but also serves those who are in need of some assistance putting food on the table.”

Funded by grant dollars, County staff and local volunteers have planted more than 500 varieties of fruits and nuts not commonly seen in the region, many of which — strawberries, raspberries, bush cherries, blue haskap and sea berries for instance — have been successful. In 2012, some of the master gardeners came up with the idea of planting a separate vegetable garden on site, solely for the benefit of the Task Force.

“Our County has a rich history of cattle, horses, hay and nursery products thriving here, but research has shown that we grow less than one percent of the food we consume,” Partridge said. “The purpose of this orchard is to help expand economic opportunities and strengthen our community by inspiring innovation in scalable agriculture, edible landscapes, gardening, and community gardens and orchards, creating new opportunities for people to create better food for our citizens.”

In 2016, volunteers will plant a windbreak tree line around part of the orchard, grow new vegetable and melon beds, focus more on composting, and add mason bees to help with early pollination of some of the blossoms inside the orchard’s high tunnels. For more information on the orchard, click here.

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