Staff at The Arc Upper Valley, the local chapter of a national agency that advocates for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, plan to plant on Sunday apple trees, pear trees, plum trees and a host of other fruits and vegetables in an open space adjacent to the nonprofit’s offices and thrift store on DeMers Avenue.
The plan for the moment is to get everything in the ground and then work on a wide-ranging wish list this spring and beyond as The Arc Friendship Gardens and Community Orchard gets up and running. Items on the list range from paved paths for people in wheelchairs to move among the trees, raised plant beds, art projects on an adjacent warehouse, music, sustainability classes and a roadside produce stand.
A few parts of that plan have already come to fruition: The garden’s organizers secured grant money for a garden “tool share” program from which people can cheaply borrow snippers or a wheelbarrow for an afternoon, and a handful of rabbits were already eyeing the trees and plants workers began unloading on Wednesday.
“It’s going to come together, I think, slowly,” said Rachel Hafner, the chapter’s executive director. “We really want to make sure that people with disabilities can participate in the community. We really encourage inclusion, and so we like this concept because we’re bringing all different community members together.”
“And everybody eats,” said Fayme Stringer Henry, a member of the nonprofit’s board who helped unload a handful of apple and pear trees, some grape vines, raspberries, elderberries and asparagus.
“And everybody eats,” Haffner agreed. “There’s a lot of potential here. This is kind of just the first step.”
The orchard is paid for with a grant from the North Dakota Department of Agriculture that Stringer Henry and Craig Burns, a UND social work professor, received in the spring of 2019. An unseasonably early freeze last fall prevented them from planting the orchard in the fall of 2019, and the outbreak of a novel coronavirus did the same this spring.
They originally pitched the idea to nearby schools, but none had the space readily available. Planting the orchard near the nonprofit’s building is a sort-of peanut-butter-and-chocolate arrangement: The open space is a good spot to plant, and the garden can be a boon for the people who Arc staff serve.