Apple trees planted for urban orchard in Detroit

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Officials of Wolverine Human Services, a children center on the city’s east side, were watching the once-thriving Riverbend neighborhood slowly become deserted after Carson Elementary closed in 2014.

Judith Fischer Wollack, CEO of Wolverine Human Services, helps volunteer Julia Bartol, 5, break up the ground near a large field, soon to become an apple orchard on Detroit's east side.

So they launched an agricultural effort, Core Orchard Detroit, to bring the area back to life.

“We knew we had to get to work. We thought we’re not going to be leaving Detroit worse than we found it,” said Matthew Wollack, vice president of strategy and co-founder of Core Orchard Detroit. “We were going to be the people that planted our roots deeper and saw something grow.”

Nearly 200 volunteers gathered across the street from the Wolverine Center on 2610 Lenox St. to plant 300 honey crisp apple trees in celebration of Arbor Day.

“Most people look at the core of the apple as trash, but we see the seeds, where something new can grow like this lot being in the core of this neighborhood,” Wollack said. “We really see it as the opportunity for it to have new life, resources and become a destination in Detroit for people to come and experience agriculture in a new way.”

Wolverine Human Services acquired the lot from the land bank two years ago and plans to have it become a self-pick orchard open to the public and offer a discounted rate to Detroit residents.

Laurice Crease has lived in the neighborhood for nearly a decade and said he took on the role of manager because he loved to garden and it was his dream job.

“First, it’s fun for me and good to stay active,” said Crease, 60. “I live across the street, so I’m right at work. ... This is my baby. I can’t wait to watch it grow.”

The orchard seems to already be benefiting the community. Detroit Hives, also located in Riverbend, announced it plans to bring hives to the lot and expand its beekeeping at the orchard.

Core Orchards Detroit, a division of Wolverine Human Services, will plant 300 honey crisp apple trees in a new orchard on Detroit’s east side in celebration of Arbor Day in Detroit, Michigan on April 27, 2018.

“Bees in the orchard would help boost our crop and increase the amount of apples being produced, not to mention the bees will make sure the apples grow properly by pollination,” said Nicole Lindsey, co-founder of Detroit Hives. “Currently, we have three hives around the block, and we can’t wait to establish one here.”

A team from Greening Detroit plowed the field, and the center had more volunteers than needed. Many took on other tasks such as pulling weeds from the sidewalks, picking up trash, fallen branches and building a community seating area.

Volunteers, such as Michelle Olson, 65, from Paragon Properties, planted the four-year-old trees, which are expected to be fully grown in five years.

“Everyone is very excited about doing this project because Detroit was an incredible city that went through a decline, but has a beautiful future ahead of it,” said Olson, of Pinckney, whose boss gave the office a day off to volunteer.

“We may work in the suburbs, but Detroit is our city, and we’re happy to see new growth.”

Twitter: @SarahRahal_