The Bad River Orchard Project

Project Overview

FNC04-541
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2004: $3,302.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $11,718.00
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:

Commodities

  • Fruits: general tree fruits

Practices

  • Production Systems: general crop production

    Summary:

    Project Background
    The Gitiganing Restoration Project is a grassroots community operation with the purpose of creating and demonstrating strategies for local food security and community health through traditional activities. The Gitiganing Project maintains several gardens in the Bad River community with the purposes of seed propagation, family/community garden space, vegetable and fruit variety trials, medicinal plant propagation, and production of fruits, veggies, and medicines. The gardens the Gitiganing Project maintains are the Community Field (1.5 acres), the Turtle and Pow-wow gardens (>.5 acres), Marvin’s Garden (.5 acre), the Daycare and Headstart gardens (>.5 acre), the Elder’s garden (>.5 acre), the Birch Hill and Mashkiiziibii Boys and Girls Clubs’gardens ((>.5 acre), and Frank’s Field (.5 acre), which will be new for 2007 featuring blueberries, bush cherries, and other small fruits to combat diabetes. Also, with special relevance to this report, the perimeter of the Bad River Ceremonial Pow-wow Grounds has been planted with apple trees purchased with SARE grant funds, and operates as a community-demonstration orchard.

    The Gitiganing Restoration Project has since is creation made strides to observe sustainable, earth-friendly, and people-friendly practices exclusively. No chemical fertilizers or biocides are ever used, local resources always have preference, food and other produce are viewed in terms of their spiritual and medicinal value rather than as a commodity, and in general, the social and environmental considerations are always given equal credence as the economic.

    Project Description and Results
    The proximate goals of the Demonstration Orchard for Alternative, Northern-Hardy Apple, Pear, and Plum Varieties Trial are to establish a demonstration orchard to determine appropriate fruit tree varieties for local conditions, and to create a complimentary resource for the community garden, which is to develop and important niche of fruit crops for the local-sustainable food system being built in Bad River. The ultimate goal is to develop expertise in the community related to successful fruit tree growing practices, propagation, and management.

    To accomplish the proximate goals, the Gitiganing Restoration Project has acquitted many alternative fruit tree varieties appropriate for our climatic conditions but not commonly grown or tested in the vicinity to-date. In 2005, the Project acquitted five varieties of apples from Hilltop Nursery, however were unable to get the full range of diversity intended due to ordering later than was appropriate. These varieties are RedMax, RedCort, Ida Red, Macoun, and Joburn. Due to an exceptionally wet spring, this installment of the demonstration orchard had to be planted at the Bad River Reservation Ceremonial Pow-wow Grounds across the road from the intended destination in the community field. In 2006, the Project acquired three new varieties of semi-dwarf plums, all for evaluation in the demonstration garden. These fruit trees were acquired from a Wisconsin company, Wallace-Woodstock Nursery.

    To accomplish the ultimate goal of developing fruit tree horticultural skills in the community, the Gitiganing Restoration Project has employed the expertise of several qualified professionals including UW Extension Agricultural Agents, organic fruit farmers, and qualified VISTA and community volunteers. For the past five consecutive years Gitiganing has hosted spring gardening classes with variable topics including seed saving, vegetable production, herb production, small fruit production, and fruit tree care to name a few. The project has been able to count on the perennial commitment of local organic fruit growers to teach several of the sections, as well as VISTA volunteers with specialized agronomic skills to teach many courses. Guest growers from other communities dealing with food sovereignty issues have been invited to educate the local community too.

    This past season, including at least two other seasons in the past five years, several garden classes were focused on fruit tree care. These classes were taught by local organic farmers and VISTA volunteers. The topic ranged from successful transplanting, layout and design, to grafting, pest and disease monitoring, organic and biological control methods, and processing and marketing produce. More than 35 families participated in the spring garden classes in 2006.

    Beginning in 2007 and with plans to develop more so in subsequent years, grafting and cloning will become major topics and skill areas to be proliferated within the Bad River community via gardening classes, local organic grower-volunteers, UW Agricultural Extension Agents, and finally with hands-on application in the community field and at the homes of Bad River residents. Several families have received a variety of fruit trees from the Garden Project in past years, some have invested in their own trees, and other trees remain from planting long ago by anonymous gardeners. These established trees will serve as stock as well as media for trial and error to practice grafting skills at the homes and public areas of the Bad River community. Once many individuals in the community have mastered grafting, the maturing trees in the demonstration orchard will serve as stock to distribute the winning varieties to families in the community for home use. Bad River is blessed with ample rootstock in a plentitude of wild, American plum, sand and pin cherries, as well as the afore-mentioned established cultivated fruit trees, which includes naturalized populations of cherry and apple. Where needed, other rootstock will be provided by the Gitiganing Project as needed. The spring garden classes hosted by the Gitiganing Project will also continue to review topics such as pest and disease monitoring, organic and biological control methods, and processing and marketing produce as well as other previous topics for as many years as there is an audience.

    At this point, there are at least two dozen or more children that can competently plant a tree in the community because they learned by volunteering for the Garden Project. While Gitiganing may boast this number as conservative estimate, the other skills the Bad River youth and others are competent at include mulching, spreading fertilizer and cover crop seed, identifying weed plants, and various other skills such as installing tree guards. Other skills taught to community members include an introductory level to monitoring for pests and disease common in the region such as plum curculio, fruit maggots (apple, cherry, etc) rust, scab, powdery mildew, as well as a few more of the most probable pathogens. Thus far little organic pest control methods have been applied due to a very new orchard located in a remote location with diffuse fruit trees spread over a large area, and the orchard itself is a diverse, species and variety plantation, of disease resistant varieties. As mentioned, special attention is going to be given to propagation in coming years of garden classes focusing on grafting and cloning. We have considered developing a Master Gardner’s Club in Bad River such as neighboring communities have, however, there hasn’t been a terrific response as of yet as well as seeming redundant to the Gitiganing Project. So far, the demonstration orchard has been an excellent learning tool for the community and will continue to offer education opportunities for as long as the project can find an audience or the community no longer needs the service.

    The first steps in conducting the project subsequent to being awarded the grant were to first poll the community both formally with surveys and informally with conservation at potlucks, garden classes and other functions to learn what types of fruits or other produce were desired. Once the project learned what the community is interested in, qualified volunteers have provided the resources to make selections of appropriate fruit and vegetable varieties. For the demonstration orchard, the project used the criteria of patronizing a local/regional business offering varieties with appropriate northern hardiness, fruit quality, and disease resistance. Once located, apple trees were selected in 2005 and 2006, as well as pears, plums, apricots, and peaches in 2006. To this end, cherry trees have a considerable local interest and will be planted in 2007 and 2008 and explored further in subsequent years, as well as a diversity of nut bearing trees, and continuing diversification of small fruits.

    For the goal of demonstrating appropriate varieties for our northern locale, those varieties selected were done so with a zone 4b in mind. From the 2005 installment, all of the varieties are hardy to this climate and should thus show to be appropriate, with the possible exception of Joburn, which may come too late in the season to be a locally viable variety for reaching natural maturity. The same is true for the 2006 installment in regards to climate, with the exception of a couple of the stone fruits that claim to be hardy zone 5 varieties. These are all appropriate varieties for evaluation in the demonstration orchard for several reasons including discovering adaptability to the unique local micro-climate, diversity of local availability, and especially because of a trend towards milder and milder years consistently for more than a decade (many climatologists state this trend has actually been consistent much longer) encourages the zone 5 varieties to be tested. For this last reason, several local growers are experimenting with growing a number of diverse crops planning for a continuation of milder winters in the future including some fruit trees requiring zone 5b and 6a with success to date. Never-the-less, the Gitiganing Project has primarily selected the hardiest of varieties to determine if they can be grown at the Bad River location on the south shore of Lake Superior.

    Other criteria given importance to variety selection were both fruit quality and disease resistance. As an organic operation (not certified), the Gitiganing Project pursues as many biological controls as possible including selecting disease resistant varieties as a viable strategy to exclude the use of synthetic chemicals to grow food. Fruit quality was also given very high preference in selecting varieties, and to lesser a degree but still with importance was yield. Growth habit and size were paid attention too, leaning towards smaller more compact trees when possible, but selecting the available when choice was limited. The fruit quality characteristics that were desired were fresh eating and processing for either preserved fruit or pies. Season was also given consideration trying to spread out the season of varieties within a given type of fruit (i.e. apples), but in many cases the varieties were selected based on availability.

    The varieties being evaluated are: Standard Apples; RedMax, RedCort, Ida Red, Macoun, and Joburn; Semi-dwarf Apples: Freedom, Empire, and Sweet Sixteen; Semi-dwarf Pears: Clapp’s Favorite, Flemish Beauty, Hardy, Luscious, Parker and Summercrips; Peaches: Arctic Gem, Halehaven, Red Haven and Reliance; Apricots: Hargrand and Moorpark; Standaard Plums: Mount Royal and Pipestone; Semi-dwarf Plums: Stanley, Superior, Toka and Waneta.

    After selecting appropriate zone hardy, disease resistant varieties, orders were placed; the order was placed in April of 2005 for the 2005 order with poor results and in December of 2005 for the 2006 order with excellent results (the same is true for the 2007 order). After ordering the trees, VISTA volunteers and the Gitiganing board have been responsible for organizing the spring gardening classes by locating a venue, marketing and advertising the classes, as well as booking the educators. On average, the classes run about six or seven weeks in April and May. The classes are focused in the following major subject areas: fruit tree management and care, small fruit production, vegetable gardening skills, and food processing and preservation. The theories are put to test by volunteers on field days such as the annual spring planting ceremony, and throughout the growing season on garden days with the VISTAs and the variety of Bad River Youth volunteers. So far there has been a lot of learning and interest evolving with the garden projects; it has been the opinion of the project coordinators that the best learning with the most likelihood of long term resonance is hands on learning. There is no doubt that theory has an important role and value in the success of many arts and sciences, but lifelong skills and lifestyles are built on tangible, task oriented knowledge.

    The largest portion of the trees during the spring planting ceremony with about 25 community volunteers attending. The ceremony included a traditional drum and a community feast. Summer youth workers planted the remaining trees as well as doing much of the subsequent weeding, watering, installing tree guards, mulching/fertilizing with fish pond waste, spreading organic chicken fertilizer, and cover cropping with winter rye. The trees were planted in the 1st and 2nd bays in the Bad River Community field, which are approximately 35 feet wide both by about 150 feet long and 105 feet long respectively. The trees straddle the bays with two rows planted with appropriate spacing ranging from 15’ to 25’ and about 20’ average leaving 20’ aisle spacing between the rows for primary access. The fruits and varieties with the potential for the largest growth habit were placed to the north giving light availability as much equitability as possible. Tree guards were installed soon after, but mulching waited until later in the growing season allowing for weeds to develop in the orchard. Some mechanical cultivation was used to control weeds, as well as manual removal, followed by mulching, fertilizing, and cover cropping in the fall with winter rye to help minimize weed seed germination in the following season.

    To do the work of planting trees, installing tree guards, mulching, fertilizing, cover cropping, and pruning (this coming season), AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers and the Gitiganing board members organized youth and community members to conduct considerable amounts of the work being done. The youth employed were members of the Bad River Summer Youth Workers, Mashkiiziibii Boys and Girls Club, and participants of the TRAILS Youth program. Other volunteers, Northland College student volunteers, GEM interns and graduate students, (Global Environmental Management, which is a program from the College of Natural Resources at the UW Stevens Point campus), members of Project Heart Watch and Honor Our Women, and a host of community volunteers instead in the gardens. Much organizing has been done as well to network with community institutions such as Bad River Waste Management, which is the source for several of the materials used for mulching and some fertilizing. Similarly, this following year, the Gitiganing Project will use NRCS grant funds to dig a deep well and build an irrigation system using local contractors and thus give garden volunteers time for more diverse chores while cycling dollars back through the community. Several key community volunteers such as families that use the community field and the Bad River Nutritional Educator amongst others of the Gitiganing board members and AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers have offered residual assistance with the demonstration orchard.

    The personnel whom have helped with this project are many and will be listed in no particular order. Tom Galazen is a local organic farmer, North Wind Organic Farm, whom has provided a great amount of professional advice and expertise regarding fruit tree care and management, and small fruit production. Tom teaches many of the spring garden classes as well as advising several of the AmeriCorps VISTAs. Tom Cogger is the NRCS Tribal Liaison as well as NRCS Soil Scientist specializing in agricultural outreach. Tom has provided advice and expertise in soil management as an advisor to several of the AmeriCorps VISTAs. Rebecca Lemieux is the Gitiganing Vice-chair, and whose name this grant is in. “Becky”, has been the most committed community volunteer in the garden as well as serving her position well as both vice chair and Nutrition Educator for the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe. Likewise, the other Gitiganing Board members are dual role members of their communities: Barb Bell President of the Gitiganing Board and Director of the Bad River Lodge and Casino; Luis Salas, member of the Gitiganing Board and Health and Safety Coordinator for seven reservations in Wisconsin; Deanna-Cloud Moore Treasurer of the Gitiganing Project and Director of the Bad River TRAILS Program; Helen “Frannie” Shinaway Secretary of the Gitiganing Project and Administrative Assistant for the Bad River TRAILS program. Other key volunteers and members of Gitiganing include Linnie Salas Director of Bad River Early Childhood Development, Mary Lou Salawater Director of the Bad River Project Heart Watch, Mike Murphy Project Heart Watch volunteer, and VISTA volunteers Nathaniel Secor, Janelle Cole, Ginnie Spernoga, Timothy Ott, Kayla Tith, Julia Braun, Eric Frank, and Ben and Terri Wojahn. Other personnel include former UW Extension Agricultural Agent Vijai Pandian and current UW Extension Agricultural Agent Jason Fischbach. There are many more personnel that could be listed whom assist with the success of Gitiganing, but this is an appropriate list of many key participants in the Gitiganing Project and the Demonstration Orchard.

    There is no quantitative data to report for variety hardiness evaluation to date for the cited reasons of mild winters with adequate snow cover in 2005-2006, and essentially the same so far at the end of 2006 going into 2007. There are no numbers to report yet either of productivity due to the newness of the plantation and the requisite years for fruit to bear, nor has there been any significant incidence of pestilence with the exception of deer and rodents, which have been thwarted with physical means thus far (hardware mesh, tree guards, tinfoil, etc). Our future plans for deer and rodents include more putrefied egg and capsaicin sprays. The only incidents that have been lethal to the trees were the fault of negligent humans driving trucks over trees near the entrance to the Pow-wow grounds.

    As a fairly young organization (only about 9 years), the opportunities for learning are still many for Gitiganing and those learned in relation to his grant include continuing education for how to effectively organize community, grant management, institutional memory, purchasing plant materials on time, and general planning and organizing. The community has had an opportunity to learn much from this grant as an introduction to orchard development and management. Layout and design skills, proper planting technique, aftercare skills including soil management (i.e. amending, cover cropping, mulching, etc.) and installing tree guards are all skills learned by community members, and there will be many more skills to develop as the demonstration orchard matures.

    The so called barriers being explored are the diversity of fruit tree varieties grown locally at the south shore of Lake Superior and a community stricken with a lifestyle and diet related disease, Type II Diabetes, exacerbated by the available food system that provides processed foods high in health deteriorating agents. The initial barrier is overcome as the many new varieties have transplanted successfully and will in a few short years be propagated and distributed amongst the community. The second barrier will take a much longer scale of time to assess if they have been overcome. Opportunities for physical activity and safe grown local food are appropriate foundations to overcome the diet and lifestyle related barriers described above.

    The advantages of implementing a project as the Demonstration Orchard being created by the Gitiganing Project are diverse like the orchard itself, as may be the disadvantages. The advantages are an opportunity to experiment with diverse varieties of fruit trees, circulating knowledge in the Bad River community, practicing organizing skills, and building community in general. The disadvantages are also associated with community and volunteerism; disadvantages are the lack of institutional memory associated with turnover rates of paid volunteers such as VISTA, lack of time from community volunteers considering the rigorous competition of what to allocate time resources to, relying on community volunteerism as a means to accomplish labor and project development, and simply organizing a large diverse body are all disadvantages of a project such as this, however, they too are learning opportunities for those organizing.

    If there were one thing Gitiganing could tell other producers based on what was learned from doing this project it is placing orders within plenty of time to guarantee that the desired plant materials are available at order time. Secondly, it was realizing the need for weed management, not that it would be news to many producers. To other food security organizations or nonprofit organizations, the recommendation that Gitiganing could offer is to make the best effort to reach out to media such as local newspaper and radio, online web postings, and including writing a newsletter to publicize the work that is being done in the field.

    Outreach
    During the first year of implementation, Bad River had a local newspaper News from the Sloughs, which was used to communicate much of the information about the project and community organizing. These communications include announcements of the spring garden classes, the annual planting ceremony, and other announcements relevant to the Gitiganing Project activities. During the second year the formerly mentioned newspaper was canceled and there was a gap locally for a medium to deliver information. Gitiganing has also maintained its own newsletter which to inform the community in the coming season on what the developments are of this project, which has blossomed more so in recent months. The Ashland Daily Press has been used to announce several community events in connection to this project including the spring garden classes and the Planting Ceremonies. Gitiganing also uses the Headstart newsletter and parent announcements to communicate much of its activities and events as well as the memo field on the Bad River paycheck stubs.

    After publishable results have been gathered, the information learned from this variety trail will be published in brochure from as well as taught locally during spring garden classes. Since there have been little results to communicate, the communications have tended to describe what are the developments of the project. A news release was published at the time that grant was awarded, but as a testament to the challenges of staff turnover and institutional memory there is none to include as an enclosure. The publication that will be produced as a result of this study is intended to inform the community about what are the successful varieties of fruit grown locally as well as proper growing methods. Though we have not had any field days or demonstrations per se to date, the spring garden class has brought more than 30 families the last two years, and the annual planting ceremony has drawn a similar number of attendees.

    We do not have any photos, press releases, or other articles including in house produced newsletters and flyers due to a variety of reasons including office reassignments, lack of electronic storage. We would, however, be able to provide future enclosures of flyers, newsletters, announcements, and finally publications relating the research done by the demonstration orchard project.

    2008 Report

    The 2007 – 2008 growing year was an experience for learning left for the future benefit and growth of our organization and others.

    As in the past years, we planned in the winter for the spring and summer. We knew that the Americorp-vista assistance would not be helping Gitiganing in the coming year, but we would still have the core group of community volunteers and the summer tribal youth program.

    We started the scheduling of the gardening classes at the same time we started the planting of the plants under the grow lights. We had almost three weeks into the grow light rotation, when an extended weekend responsibility for the plants was assigned to a new volunteer. The plants were not watered for four days and the loss was almost complete. We reseeded and were able to have our annual plant-seed Give-Away on
    May 30th. One hundred and ninety families received seedling and seeds for their own
    individual gardens. In total we were able to provide 3500 plants to our community
    members.

    We started the 2008 season with a late season and small plants that had been replanted or from seed to the field. The field did not dry until late June and the north west area of our small field it did not dry until the first of July. The tractor had to have the water pump replaced and we did not have funding to fix it, to disk the field, while we had our short dry period upon us. In the prior years the tribal summer youth workers were volunteered to help plant, weed, mulch and water the field. This summer the Tribal programs had fiscal problems and the work period for the youth was shorten from eight weeks to three weeks. The Tribal Youth could participate in the planting but could not participate in the mulching, weeding or watering when it was really needed. One of our most gracious volunteers Deanna Moore who maintain the medicine wheel took another job.

    Rebecca Lemieux harvested squash, potatoes and cucumbers in October. Carrots bundles were harvested for the WIC participants and Elders until November 15th 2008. It was pretty good for a tough year.

    We appreciate all your help, we have served the Bad River Tribal Community and our friends the local Chequamegon area.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.