Ashlee Kirschner and her children Lewis, Eliza, and Fynlee enjoyed some strawberries and haskap berries this morning at the orchard.Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 07, 2022 at 14:19

By Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Planted over two years ago as a food security project for the community, the Taylor Community Orchard is enjoying another season in the sun.  

Next door to the Taylor Community Church and the Fire Hall, the orchard is a collection of edible perennials publicly accessible to anyone willing to respectfully come out and harvest its bounty – with haskap berries, honeyberries, strawberries, raspberries and more.  

Orchard organizer and local green thumb Ashlee Kirschner says it’s been a rewarding project to watch come to fruition.  

“It’s open all the time, for anyone to harvest. It’s taken a little bit of momentum for people to realize it’s here,” she said.  

As a landscaper by trade, Kirschner has always enjoyed everything green, graduating from Thompson Rivers University’s horticulture program. She was inspired by a community orchard project in Vancouver, describing the changes she saw in a rough neighbourhood there.   

“They put in lights, they put in a park, they put in trees, they put in a soccer field, and the entire neighbourhood just changed – everything about it changed, the whole space changed,” Kirschner said. “I’m really into food security, me and my husband went through a time where we didn’t have much work and I just wanted a place where we could come gather food, but not a handout.” 

“This is a place where people can come and just get food, not that it’s going to fill you up forever, but you can make a bunch of jam, and it’s something you can do yourself,” she added.  

Everything grown goes right into the hands of the community, says Kirschner, as members of the church have used the fruits to make jams and jellies for Christmas hampers.  

“Last year we picked all of the extra fruit that people hadn’t picked and we made it into jams and jellies,” Kirschner said.  

The orchards are entirely volunteer run, said Kirschner, with residents donating time to cut grass, prune plants, and so on.  

“The church donated the space and the use of the land. It was just grass before, we felt it was a good space to use. I’ve done quite a bit of the planting with volunteer help,” said Kirschner. “But basically, if anyone ever wants to do something, they can go to me to see what needs to be done.”   

The project was first pitched to the District of Taylor council in 2019, when Kirschner approached them with colleague Jolene Morrison. The orchard also acts as social hub, sporting a gazebo, a small walking path, and a set of swings for kids to play on.  

Grants from local companies have also been put towards purchasing plants and trees to place in the growing orchard – with goji berries, hazelnut bushes, and apricot trees being recent additions. QR codes have been placed on small signs beside each plant or tree, directing residents to more information about them.  

This item reprinted with permission from Alaska Highway News, Fort St. John, British Columbia