Volunteers plant community orchard

Two dozen Urban Gardens neighborhood residents and volunteers from Baton Rouge Green and Exxon worked in a chilly Scotlandville breeze Saturday morning to transform an empty lot into an urban orchard.

“It’s a corner orchard,” said Robert Seemann, program director for BR Green. “They don’t have a corner store — they have a corner orchard.”

Residents who live near the corner of Amarillo Street and Breckenridge Avenue, where Hollywood Elementary School once stood, should be able to harvest persimmons and a variety of citrus fruits next year from two dozen now-spindly trees, a dozen blueberry bushes and another dozen blackberry and muscadine vines, Seemann said.

A small grove of eight peach trees was planted on another nearby lot and a dozen Urban Gardens neighborhood residents had citrus trees planted in their backyards by members of The King’s Children Full Gospel Church.

“Satsuma is my favorite tree and I appreciate them bringing it,” said resident Geraldine “Miss K” Kuyoro as the Rev. Robert Joseph and several of his church’s young people planted one. “I’ve never had a fruit tree before.”

The church owns the corner lot where the new orchard was planted, and also has a large community produce garden just down the street.

A row of small new homes are gradually replacing dilapidated ones, an early phase of an ongoing project of the Urban Restoration Enhancement Corporation, UREC.

“This is to bring the community together and the people who are buying these houses will have a gathering place and the sustainable agriculture that we hope will provide fresh vegetables and fresh fruits,” Joseph said.

Volunteers also planted rows of shrubs around the edges of a large, wooden pergola shading a small, concrete pad for chairs and benches.

“I’m having the time of my life,” Metro Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards said. “This is transforming this neighborhood and it ties into the discussion we’re having about food deserts in the community.”

When BR Green began the neighborhood renovation, said Diane Losavio, the organization’s executive director, “they wisely reserved this corner lot for green space.

“The residents and the members of the church will help take care of the trees.”

Kadeisha Taylor, 15, and Mannix Taylor, 13, finished planting a blueberry bush by tamping down the rich soil around its base.

“It makes me feel good and proud of myself helping out the community,” Kadeisha Taylor said.

“This will help people in the community be able to come here and pick some berries,” Mannix Taylor added.

Albert Hammond, 16, who lives just down the street, said, “this makes me feel good helping the community and making it better — making it green.’

Funding for the soil preparation, plants and lumber and labor to build the pergola was provided by ExxonMobil, said Losavio.

Donna Rea, an environmental regulatory supervisor for ExxonMobil and BR Green board member, took a break from digging holes to say, “We’re here to support the community and provide an area they can use for a long time.”

Baton Rouge Green is a nonprofit organization incorporated in 1988.

Its mission is to plant and care for community trees, and to host educational programs and neighborhood tree plantings.

Through its Living Roadways program, Baton Rouge Green, with the financial support of its “Green Team” — a group of community-minded businesses and individuals — cares for nearly 5,000 mature trees along the city’s interstate system.

For information, contact Baton Rouge Green at (225) 381-0037.