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Teens devote labor to bring Kansas City neighbors a harvest of fresh produce

Updated: 2013-10-08T19:43:26Z

By BETH LIPOFF

Special to The Star

When a group of teens organized by Metropolitan Lutheran Ministry joined Saturday morning to help mulch trees in Kansas City’s Spring Valley Park, they all seemed to agree on two things: They liked helping people, and it was way too early to be up on the weekend.

Teenagers from Overland Park’s Christ Lutheran Church, Gardner’s King of Kings Lutheran Church and Lenexa’s Kaw Prairie Community Church dug up and knocked dirt from hunks of Bermuda grass, and spread mulch around the base of each tree in the orchard at Highland Avenue and 29th Street.

“There’s always something to do, and any age group can participate,” said Steven Tucker, outreach events manager for MLM.

Even though the labor was difficult, 17-year-old Jacob Boring of Gardner didn’t mind. He does yard work for his godmother and enjoyed the challenge.

“I think that sometimes people don’t want to bother to do things like this because they think someone will ruin it,” he said. “I just think that if we come out here to put something together for them to do themselves, they … won’t feel so restricted.”

Planted two years ago, the trees are part of a project to bring affordable fresh produce to the Kansas City neighborhoods of Mount Hope and Boston Heights. By next year, they’ll produce a veritable fruit salad of apples, peaches, pears, plums and cherries.

Starla Brennan, a site steward from MLM, estimated that the community will get 500 bushels of fruit every year from the 113-tree orchard. Each bushel of apples contains about 120 pieces of fruit.

A donated irrigation system taps into city water mains to keep the trees well watered, and the city offered a grant to cover the water usage. An adjacent space also has a community garden with 18 raised beds and 20 blackberry bushes.

It all started when United Way and Harvesters received a donation of fruit trees and needed a place to put them. With advice from The Giving Grove and KC Community Gardens, MLM joined forces with the local neighborhoods to create the orchard and community garden.

It wasn’t easy. The space next to the orchard used to be an illegal dumping ground, dotted with hundreds of old tires. With the improvements over the last couple of years, the spot has been transformed.

Esther Kershaw, president of the Boston Heights neighborhood association, said that she now has a waiting list for people who want plots in the community garden.

“It’s like having your own grocery store at your fingertips,” she said. “I’m truly excited. This is a blessing. Children can come to the orchard and see the (growing) process.”

Many of the people who live around the park have plots in the community garden and keep an eye on the garden and orchard.

“They’re so excited about learning to grow their own fresh food and learning that it’s doable. They can do this and do it together,” Brennan said.

For 15-year-old Tamieka Melancon of Olathe, who doesn’t usually like yard work, knowing her efforts would help people made it worth the early wake-up call on a Saturday morning. Also, she’s gained gardening experience, like finding out “how weird grubs are.”

Her friend, 15-year-old Kyleigh Marsh of Wellsville, Kan., said being with friends made the work easier.

“It was fun, while making other people’s lives better,” she said.

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