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Nov 30

The KWA Orchard: A Model for Transforming Our Community

Posted on November 30, 2017 at 11:37 AM by Allan Warren

KWA web
Over the past decade, the KWA Orchard has been transformed from a toxic dump site to a major contributor to our local food system and is an inspiring example of what our community can accomplish when we work together.

It used to be an eyesore and a dumping ground, with eighteen acres full of discarded trash such as junked parts from trucks, cars, and airplanes. Most troubling were the drums of toxic chemicals strewn about the property. But in 2006, local organizations pulled together to implement  a plan funded by the Community Development Award from the National Association for County Community and Economic Development.

Within 6 years time, they transformed the toxic dump into what it is today: the “Orchard Project,” a sprawling orchard of nearly 200 productive Liberty apple trees surrounded by energy-efficient housing for low-income residents. The supporting organizations are the Korean Women’s Association for the housing and orchard management, and the Emergency Food Network supported the original development of the orchard and distributes the apples it produces through its network of food banks. 

Enter Harvest Pierce County’s Gleaning Project, a program that dispatches teams of volunteers to harvest hundreds of thousands of pounds of fruit for food banks, shelters, and community food projects. 200 trees require many hands, and thankfully Harvest Pierce County has a network of over 1,200 volunteers who love to pick! That is how our relationship with 
The Orchard Project began: getting together and harvesting thousands of pounds of apples in the late fall. 

In 2015, however, The Orchard Project began experiencing problems. Usually, the total weight of the harvest was around 4,000lbs, but in 2015, we were only able to pick 200lbs of usable fruit. The KWA Orchard managers began a relationship with Harvest Pierce County for a new reason: getting the orchard back on through implementing an arborist-approved orchard plan. Harvest Pierce County has a Fruit Tree Education Series every year, designed to complement the Gleaning Project with pruning, pollination, fertilization, and more. The idea is that we get so much from our County’s trees - this is one small way to give back. And so, in 2016, we made the KWA the focus of our Fruit Tree Education Series, hosting classes and work parties that used the Orchard as learning opportunity. 

Dinner Time FarmUnder the direction of Arborist Robert Sweet and with help from Harvest Pierce County and NCCC Americorps volunteers, the Orchard was successfully revived, producing nearly 8,000lbs of fruit at the 2016 harvest! 

The 2017 harvest was back to normal with a harvest of nearly 4,000lbs - but notably, the fruit was bigger and better formed, as we had thinned the crop and produced fewer but better quality apples over all. And the best part: in keeping with the Harvest Pierce County Gleaning Project’s commitment to food waste reduction, all groundfall apples that could not be donated to the foodbank were given to Dinner Time Farm, a farm raising heritage hogs and poultry. Dinner Time Farm was able to accept nearly 1000lbs of produce not fit for human consumption that would otherwise go to waste.