A fruitful plan for the Cathedral of the Rockies

Everyone and anyone will be able to enjoy the sweet rewards of this future North End orchard.

awebb@idahostatesman.comDecember 24, 2013 

It’s just dirt under snow with a half-built path right now, but Joe Prin has a vision that the empty corner on the block owned by Cathedral of the Rockies be transformed into an orchard. On another corner of the lot is Boise High’s Downtown Teaching Farm. “Same spirit,” he said. “Organic, teaching, feeding the hungry, giving back to the community.“

KATHERINE JONES — kjones@idahostatesman.com

  • CAN YOU OFFER TREES, OR GOOD ADVICE?

    First Fruits Orchard is looking for local nurseries and growers to donate fruit trees of all varieties as well as expertise and guidance for planting.

    Tree donors, garden designers, fruit tree experts, volunteer gardeners and others who would like to help can contact Joe Prin at the Cathedral of the Rockies First United Methodist Church at 573-1082 or jprin@boisefumc.org.

The name, First Fruits Orchard, is a play on a couple things, said Joe Prin, the orchard’s founder.

It refers to the First United Methodist Church, also known as Cathedral of the Rockies. The church owns the orchard, a formerly vacant lot that also houses a school teaching garden at Fort and 11th streets in Boise.

The name also refers to a biblical admonition, says Prin: “You should give fruits to God from the first of your harvest, not just give when you’re down to leftovers.”

Prin is the building superintendent for Cathedral of the Rockies. He and others working on the orchard project plan to give all the fruits that will eventually grow there — first, middle and last — to the community.

That includes providing for charitable meals at the church, for local food pantries and the odd passerby looking for a snack.

The orchard is in its early stages. There’s not a lot to see on frozen December dirt. But there are visible hints of what’s to come: Volunteers have laid pathways through the future orchard rows with concrete salvaged from the old sidewalks that once ringed the block.

Prin said he and other orchard volunteers will plant in the spring. They’re hoping nurseries throughout the state will donate trees. They want apples, pears, plums, and apricots in the mix, along with a grape arbor and bowers of raspberries.

The orchard will feature a grassy patch where kids can play. Prin invites local organizations to make the block an outdoor classroom.

“We want the best possible use of this space,” he said.

Part of the block is already in use as the Boise High Downtown Teaching Farm. The farm will continue to operate.

“Boise High has done a great job this year of keeping detailed records and generating food to donate. It inspired us,” said Prin.

MAKING PEACE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Prin and Steve Spencer, assistant building superintendent, started talking about what they might do with the rest of the block that was not part of the Boise High project. The land had become a refuge for trash and puncture vine.

Spencer’s and Prin’s first idea was to plant an apple tree — a symbol from the Bible, appropriate for a church.

“Then we thought, how about planting 10 trees? How about filling the whole lot with trees?” said Prin.

The North End Neighborhood Association supports the project.

In the past, the church and the association have been at odds. More than a decade ago, the church razed several historic houses on the block. Plans to build a parking lot and apartment complex fell by the wayside, but the fallen houses upset neighbors.

“The loss of the historic structures is still there, but to see the church do something positive is a good thing,” said NENA President Don Plum.

He likes the idea of seeing fruit trees growing, even if it takes 10 or 15 years for them to mature. Providing free produce for the community, as well as educational programs for kids, is in keeping with the church’s mission as he sees it.

GIVING TO RECEIVE

The goal is to have all the First Fruits landscaping done by 2014, said Prin.

He calls himself an amateur gardener who’s “continually evolving” his skills. The First Fruits Orchard has a predecessor, he said. Prin works at the Cathedral of the Rockies, but is a member of the Hillview United Methodist Church on the Boise Bench.

Some years ago, he and his fellow congregants built a “First Fruits” vegetable cart that they set up in the church lobby during Sunday services.

Prin and the others encouraged members to stock the cart with “free offerings” — the produce from their gardens.

“We found that a lot of people who didn’t have finances for fresh fruit and vegetables appreciated it,” said Prin.

The church also taught classes on gardening, pickling and other home arts.

“We brought in thousands of pounds of produce,” said Prin.

The project taught him a lesson: “The more vegetables I give away, the better my garden grows for some reason. There’s a powerful stewardship message in that.”

PEOPLE ON BOARD

The message seems to be working for the First Fruits Orchard. Many volunteers and donors already are eager to make the project a reality, said Prin.

United Water will donate water for the first year. Solid Earth LLC prepared the site and removed existing debris.

3-D Landscape is working on layout and design as well as installing a drip-irrigation system.

Other faith groups are pitching in. Loyal To One Ministries, which provides safe and sober living situations for men getting out of prison and re-entering the work force, helped with walkways, plantings and ground covers.

There’s talk of more amenities. A beekeeper wants to set up bee boxes. A wrought-iron craftsman offered his services. A few people and the neighhborhood association have dropped off checks, said Prin.

It’s uncertain how long the orchard may remain. It’s always possible First Methodist will choose to develop the land one day.

“But for now,” said Prin, “this will be a living, growing thing.”

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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