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Orchard planted in parents’ memory is thriving

An AP Member Exchange shared by the Lincoln Journal Star

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Laurie Churchill’s family has been part of Christ United Methodist Church since 1970. And if the apple orchard planted in her parents’ memory continues to thrive like it has for the past eight years, Churchill and her family will be associated with the church for years to come.

Churchill’s mother, Helen Witters, died in 2011, and her father, Lee Witters, passed away in 2013. Churchill said her mother’s death sparked the idea to establish an orchard in her parents’ memory, something she believes her mother would have been proud of, given her love of trees and gardening.

“There was never a tree that she didn’t like,” Churchill told the Lincoln Journal Star .

Using the family’s memorial fund to jump-start the orchard, along with a donation drive that helped pay to plant 40-50 trees, the church at 45th and A streets was on its way to growing the only urban orchard in Lincoln, according to Apple Festival coordinator Sarah Lanik-Frain.

“It’s kind of a hidden gem,” Lanik-Frain said of the small orchard located on the north side of the church. “There should be some more awareness about it.”

Three years ago, Lanik-Frain helped create the annual Apple Festival, a low-cost, family-oriented event centered around the church’s orchard. This year, the festival featured more than 50 vendors, children’s activities and live music.

“We’ve really grown this year,” she said. “The purpose was to create an event for the community for families to come in and have fun.”

In its early stages, apples from the orchard were donated to Matt Talbot Kitchen and Outreach or Community Point to help those in need. Now that the orchard has grown, Lanik-Frain said the focus has shifted toward serving the community directly with free, readily available apples that can be picked from the tree and eaten.

“Now that it’s grown, it’s become very fruitful for us and we don’t want to waste it,” Lanik-Frain said.

Volunteer Gina Egenberger was the “brain child” behind the orchard, according to Lanik-Frain. Egenberger knew there could be a better, environmentally healthy way of utilizing the large areas of unused grass in front of the church.

“I was the most opinionated about the property having all this open space,” Egenberger said.

She said the biggest challenge with planting the orchard was figuring out where to start. Doing everything from soil testing to applying for permits were uncharted territory for Egenberger, so she often collaborated with other orchards and organizations to make sure the orchard was sustainable.

Churchill, Lanik-Frain and Egenberger all see the orchard as a resource for those in need of readily available food for their community.

“I want it to be a model for urban agriculture and I also want to have free healthy food for people who need it,” Churchill said.

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