For families on food stamps in Johnson County, things will get a little bit sweeter in the next few years.
The county, in partnership with the Giving Grove and the Access to Healthy Foods Coalition, planted two small orchards last week to supplement fresh produce for those in the WIC program.
One of the orchards, which contains 13 trees, is located next to the WIC Community Garden in Olathe. The other has 20 trees at the Adult Residential Center in Gardner. The planting event took place in honor of National Food Day on Oct. 24.
“It’ll be an extra benefit to the clients,” said Laura Drake, WIC program manager for Johnson County.
In addition to WIC recipients, residents at the Center and SafeHome, as well as local food pantries, will have access to the fruit. This is the 45th such project for the Giving Grove in the area. Five of those orchards are in Johnson County.
The Access to Healthy Foods Coalition is a product of the county government, created in 2012 to help change policies to increase availability of fresh produce and other healthy items.
Rob Reiman, executive director of the Giving Grove, said his group recommended pear and dwarf apple trees because most people like the fruits they bear and also because they’re easier to care for than some other trees. The varieties are fairly disease-resistant and provide fruit that keeps well for a longer period of time in refrigerators.
Reiman expects the apple trees to give about 200 pounds of fruit per year, starting in about three years. The Giving Grove often plants blackberry and raspberry bushes to go along with their trees to provide an immediate incentive for people to go back to the orchards. In this case, they consider the community garden to be enough of a draw and did not put in the bushes.
Renee Bryant, community wellness coordinator for Johnson County, said a steward and an apprentice will help look after and manage the orchards, along with volunteers. The volunteers will be WIC participants and county employees.
“The county is very interested in long-term, making this part of our efforts to cut the hunger in Johnson County,” Bryant said.
Right now, about 45 families on WIC help with the community garden, which serves about 800 clients. The current stewards of the orchard are James Joerke and Lorraine McGinnis, who are both employees of the county.
“A lot of people don’t realize that Johnson County has the second largest base of food-insecure families in the metro area,” Reiman said.
The Giving Grove waits until organizations who want to plant orchards have found several people willing to be stewards before starting the process, so they can be sure the orchards will receive proper care, Reiman said.
Stewards receive training from the Giving Grove about how to help the trees grow and protect them from pests, the weather and other issues.
Reiman said he likes giving people fruit to increase their intake of produce.
“The very cool thing about fruit is that it goes from the tree into your tummy,” Reiman said. “There’s no prep.”