In Hopkinsville, what began as a quest for a few basketfuls of apples will soon be a bountiful harvest for city residents.
Nate and Ellen Ragsdale, Challenge House ambassadors, were looking for a source of apples to make apple jelly. The Ragsdales use the jelly as part of their efforts to open doors and connect with other members of the Durrett Avenue neighborhood. Challenge House ambassadors are individuals who choose to live in low-income areas with the goal of sharing their faith with their neighbors and providing them with encouragement and life skills to improve themselves and their neighborhoods. There are several Challenge Houses in Hopkinsville.
“We just trying to be examples of what we can do if we just put our minds to it,” Nate Ragsdale said.
The neighborhood, located in Hopkinsville’s inner city, has very few places where residents can easily access fresh fruits and vegetables.
The Ragsdales contacted Kelly Jackson, horticulture agent with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service about a place to plant apple trees and the idea for the community orchard was born.
“I hadn’t thought about that before because people usually talk about vegetable gardens, and unless you have a tremendous workforce, it’s hard to do a vegetable garden. So that idea stuck with me, and I said, ‘let’s see what we can do.’”
Prior to meeting with the Ragsdales, Jackson was contacted by John Allen with Micah Mission Center in Hopkinsville. The center, a ministry of the Madisonville District of the United Methodist Church, had grant funding to start community gardens in town and agreed to fund the orchard project.
“What I’m really hoping here is that as this community orchard and garden develops, that neighborhood people will take more of an interest and will want to do their own raised bed vegetable garden plot and that community gardening as an idea will catch on and we can be a part of more community gardens in the future,” Allen said.
Jackson also contacted the city, and the Hopkinsville and Christian County Landbank Authority agreed to lease the Challenge House land on Broad Street, two blocks from the Ragsdale’s home, to start a the orchard. The Ragsdales are responsible for the orchard’s maintenance.
“I think a lot of community people are going to benefit from this, and not only from the fruit, but by developing relationships in the community,” said Don Ahart, Hopkinsville mayor pro-tem and city council member. “We’re looking forward to it.”
In April, Jackson and Ragsdale planted 20 apple and three pear trees in the orchard along with six raised-beds of strawberries and several blackberries. Jackson consulted UK fruit and vegetable specialist John Strang for disease resistant, easy to manage varieties. It will be a few years before the trees produce fruit, but community residents will be able to harvest the berries this year.
Jackson hopes this is the first of many community orchards in Christian County.
“That’s a big mission for extension. We need to be finding these locations whether it’s vegetable gardens or orchards and making food available to the public,” Jackson said. “I saw a video a while back from England, and they were putting gardens and apple trees in every nook and cranny they could find. Their motto was if you eat you’re in. We wanted to adopt that motto too, and anybody in the community that needs it, it’s here for you.”