It’s been a long road for the fruit orchard planted in 2018 by Pierre girl scouts, but it could be ready for harvest by next fall. And if the trees remain fruitful, the community will be invited to harvest the produce for food pantries, community meals and personal use.

On Oct. 11, tours and an open house will show off the orchard’s progress at the Sully Avenue site. The girl scout tended orchard now has 24 semi-dwarf fruit trees, a surrounding fence, equipment storage shed, picnic-like shelter, and an information kiosk.

The fence is needed to help protect the trees from deer and other animals. It has a 10-foot gateway on the east side to allow for expansion if the project is a huge success. The shelter is for visitors to enjoy the area and “for volunteers to have a space to gather and get organized,” troop leader Deserée Corrales said.

The shed holds needed equipment to maintain the orchard.

“We did harvest some plums and berries this year,” she said. “There were also some apples this year.”

Corrales is the troop leader who started the idea for an orchard.

City parks and rec. director Tom Farnsworth praised Corrales’ efforts and their results.

“It’s a beautiful and well-maintained site,” he said. “It’s probably one of our best-kept secrets because we haven’t been talking about it much until it matures. I believe harvesting next season is a real possibility. The trees need a little more time to mature.”

The orchard idea came to Corrales in June 2017 while traveling. At Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, which is similar in size to Pierre, she saw a community orchard planted by an elementary school. Corrales is a nutrition specialist with the Oahe Child Development Center. She found a community orchard could provide a source of healthy food, teach people in a hands-on way about how fruit grows and encourage people to source food locally.

The girl scout troop brought forth the long-range project in 2017. Project organizer Corrales, leader of the then-eight-member troop No. 40080, began working with Pierre’s Arbor Board and Parks and Recreation Department staff. The Pierre City Commission approved the orchard’s location in December 2017. Of the proposed 24 trees, there are five kinds of fruit — six peach, six apple, five pear, five plum and two cherry trees.

On May 1, 2018, the City of Pierre and Girl Scout Troop No. 40080 partnered to establish the community orchard. The city provided the 6,400-square-foot city-owned property just east of the city park shop building. The city also agreed to provide access to water through an underground drip irrigation system. Otherwise, the Girl Scouts maintain the property.

During the orchard’s dedication ceremony, the South Dakota Department of Agriculture recertified the City of Pierre as a Tree City USA location, its 35th year as such.

A community must demonstrate sound urban forestry practices that include having an arbor board and tree-maintenance ordinances to receive recognition as a Tree City USA location.

The orchard isn’t the only thing growing at the Sully Avenue site. The scouts tending the trees have as well.

“We are mostly in seventh grade; we do have a fourth-grader and a 10th-grader,” Corrales said. “Seven are original from when the orchard was started.”

For Corrales’ daughter, Jocelyn, the orchard was part of her work towards a Silver Award, which requires cadet scouts to complete a significant service project. For the other seven members, Brownies at the time, it was a Take Action project, which requires the scout to do a project that has a sustainable impact.

The girl scouts did a clean-up on Sept. 12. and Corrales said they, as a Troop, plan to trim the trees after the trees go dormant this fall. Trimming, basically, is so there is enough space between the branches for optimal growth, Corrales said.

Spraying against harmful insects will be done throughout next spring to fall.

Part of making the project sustainable included community support. Financial support included a $500 start from the troop and a $1,000 grant from the Wellmark Foundation through the South Dakota Discovery Center. The U.S. Forest Service Pollinator — Community Garden Grant and state Urban Forestry Challenge Grant also awarded funds for the project. Other organizations, businesses and individuals also pitched in to help fund the orchard.

“This space will provide produce for families and individuals visiting the orchard,” the orchard’s kiosk read. “Community organizations will pick harvests to donate to local community meals and the food pantry. The Discovery Center, Prairie Potters Master Gardeners, teachers and other educators will use the space to teach nature, science, gardening and nutrition classes. This natural space will provide holistic health benefits to visitors and encourage our community to care for our natural environment.”

Del Bartels | 605-224-7301

Reporter Del Bartels, a born and raised South Dakotan and a graduate from Black Hills State University, was the editor of a weekly newspaper for 17 years.

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