In a hidden patch of space outside the Fairview Suites on Commonwealth University's Lock Haven campus, grows a solution to help combat food insecurity.
In September, Lock Haven biology faculty member Dr. Heather Bechtold, along with biology faculty from two other PASSHE universities, Cem Akin from the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation (FTPF), and 46 volunteers from across the Lock Haven campus, planted 40 fruit trees to help combat food insecurity on the Lock Haven campus and in the community.
The orchard was planted as a part of a larger project to bring "sister orchards" to all 14 PASSHE campuses. "The idea of an orchard is an easy sell since it beautifies the campus, provides fresh food, and makes an instant outdoor classroom. It was hard to resist!" Bechtold said. "Currently, PASSHE universities are in rural areas with historically higher poverty rates, higher unemployment rates, and lower access to local and healthy food."
The orchard will also provide a local food source to help stock the Haven Cupboard food pantry, which provides current Lock Haven students in need with food and other necessities.
Each orchard contains varieties of apples, plums, sour cherries, and peaches that are all disease and pest resistant, as well as varieties of apple that grow especially well in Pennsylvania climates.
Bechtold describes the project as the brainchild of biology professors Dr. Nathan Thomas, from Shippensburg University, and Dr. Sarah Meiss, from PennWest California. In 2016, California was the first PASSHE school to plant an orchard and begin working with the FTPF. In 2019, Shippensburg planted their orchard.
These professors, along with Bechtold and Dr. Ryan Wagner from Millersville University, worked together on a grant in 2020 to secure funding for the project on their campuses.
The orchard received an overwhelming amount of help to be planted. "We had special help from coach Patrick Long and members of the men's soccer team, and Drs. Steve Seiler and Barrie Overton from the biology department," Bechtold said. "Most of the other volunteers were current Lock Haven students in botany, and many student-athletes."
Bechtold hopes to use the orchard as an outdoor classroom to teach students about horticulture, grafting, pruning, and provide career skill development. The space can also be used for research projects including plant pathology, horticulture, and pollination issues. "I hope it will create a greater sense of community and draw students and others to this courtyard area by Fairview Suites," Bechtold said.
The project not only provides students with valuable learning opportunities, but Lock Haven faculty as well. "As faculty, we benefit from working with our colleagues at other PASSHE schools, learning best practices in working with students in a service-learning capacity, as well as applying the environmental benefits of fruit trees to our own research and teaching," explained Bechtold. "We can connect this to our students through our classrooms, coursework, club activities, and to external outreach in our community."
"This initiative is a phenomenal example of faculty and students from across our State System coming together in ways that benefit our community. Thank you to Dr. Bechtold for spearheading Lock Haven's orchard, and to all of the faculty, staff, and students who worked together to make it happen. The orchard will provide valuable outreach and learning opportunities for years to come," said Bashar W. Hanna, Commonwealth University president.
The FTPF is an award-winning international nonprofit charity, dedicated to planting fruitful trees and plants to alleviate world hunger, combat global warming, strengthen communities, and improve the surrounding air, soil, and water. FTPF programs strategically donate orchards where the harvest will best serve communities for generations.
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