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Apple orchard at McGovern Park

An Apple Orchard is Thriving in McGovern Park!

October 9, 2022  |  Topics: Places

By Jan Carroll

Photography by Eddee Daniel

At first glance in McGovern Park’s northeast corner, there is nothing much to see.  In a broad open field just south of Silver Spring off of Sherman Boulevard, rows of small trees march toward the pond next to the goal post.  As you go closer, you begin to see glimmers of color in the trees, the gold and red of ripe apples.  It is the McGovern apple orchard.

The apple orchard.
The apple orchard.

Victory Garden Initiative started it all.  In 2012, through their Fruity Nutty Blitz, the grassroots organization began awarding gardens and orchards to community groups as an effort to help people grow their own food. Victory Gardens Initiative has helped plant twenty-five orchards and over 3,000 gardens.

Volunteers planting the orchard in 2017
Volunteers planting the orchard in 2017. Photo by John Carroll.

Orchard fever spread rapidly.  In 2015 Growing Power brought urban orchards to new levels in Milwaukee.  Will Allen, guru of urban farming in Milwaukee and a national leader in the movement to bring farming to urban centers, received an invitation to begin a partnership with Stark Brothers, a Missouri-based nursery. In celebration of the 200th anniversary of their introduction of the Red Delicious apple in the US, Stark Brothers began sending their unsold fruit trees to Growing Power to be distributed in Milwaukee County. Since the beginning of that partnership, over twenty-five county orchards have been planted by Growing Power.

Senator Lena Taylor, a long time advocate of urban agriculture, holding apple tree seedlings, 2017. Photo: John Carroll.

Growing Power partnered with the HOME GR/OWN program at the City of Milwaukee in 2015. Vacant lots became “pocket” parks and orchards, some with community garden space.  Then, in 2017 Milwaukee County got involved by creating the SEED program, giving county park land to Growing Power for two orchards, one in McGovern Park and one in Oak Creek Parkway, as well as passing on the over 200-acre jail farm to the Hunger Task Force for fresh food production.  UW Extension was given the task of creating raised-bed vegetable gardens in county parks.

The newly planted orchard, 2018.

The McGovern Park Orchard was planted in 2017 with trees from Growing Power.  Forty-four apple trees were planted on a beautiful spring day by a group of city and park officials, police officers, and neighbors.

City and park officials, police officers, and neighbors cutting the ribbon at the opening of the orchard, 2017.
Photo by John Carroll.

The trees grew but had 2 rough years when they were “pruned” by deer.  The deer seem to have done a good job though, for, after that, the trees took off. The first small harvest in 2021 was given to the park staff who had so carefully watched over them, mulching and mowing the grass.

Aerial view of the McGovern Park orchard.
Aerial view of the McGovern Park orchard.

2022 has been a banner year.  The trees are thriving, and the harvest is beautiful and bountiful.  I have cared for them throughout their lives with the help of many others – friends, family, park staff, Northcott Community Center arborist interns, neighbors, and dedicated volunteers.  Hours have been spent standing in the cold in early spring pruning the trees to shape them for maximum air flow and sunlight as well as keeping them short enough to be harvested from the ground (No ladders need apply!) Work then moved to spring and summer, thinning the apples and applying organic clay to deter insects.  McGovern Senior Center is now getting involved along with Safe and Sound, a community organizing group. The fruit this year will be once again shared with park staff and now also with the McGovern Senior Center.

Ripe apples ready for picking.
Ripe apples ready for picking.

It is work that heals us as we endeavor to make Milwaukee a verdant and healthy place to live, and it makes everyone so happy to pick the apples. In 2022, GroundworkMKE gave sixty fruit trees to over fifteen community groups, so the Milwaukee orchard community continues to grow.

Throughout the season, unripe apples are sprayed with a solution of clay to keep off insects and other pests.
Checking a small, unripe apple and finding an insect pest.
Mary and Jan with a haul of small, unripe apples that were pruned from the trees.
Ripening apples.
Ripening apples.
Picking apples; no ladders needed!
Vevette from the McGovern Senior Center picks ripe apples.
Vevette from the McGovern Senior Center picks ripe apples.
Jan and Peter with a load of newly picked apples.
Jan and Patrick with a load of newly picked apples.
Jan presents a bucket of apples to the McGovern Park maintenance crew.

Announcement / Invitation

Harvest Fest will be held Saturday, October 15, 2022 from 10am to 2pm at the McGovern Park Senior Center (4500 W. Custer Ave.) Open to the public.

Sponsored by Milwaukee County Parks, Groundwork Milwaukee, Safe and Sound, and SOA (Serving Older Adults), the event will be a celebration of the orchard and the work that has been done to bring these park partners together. McGovern is moving to start a Friends of McGovern group, so please join us as we harvest the last of the apples and imagine the future of this beautiful park.

For more information about McGovern Park, go to our Find-a-Park page.

Jan Carroll is a self-taught arborist, a retired nurse who cares for many of the pocket orchards and teaches those who are learning how to care for the fruit trees.

All photographs by Eddee Daniel, except as noted. Eddee is a board member of Preserve Our Parks and Project Director of A Wealth of Nature.

Milwaukee County Parks and Environmental Collaboration Office (which oversees HOME GR/OWN) are project partners of A Wealth of Nature.