LOUISIANA: Jericho Road to bear new fruit after winning orchard in national contest

September 1, 2010

The Jericho Road Episcopal Housing Initiative’s efforts to help New Orleanians continue to revitalize their community five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area soon will bear new fruit, thanks to supporters new and old whose online votes won the organization a fruit orchard.

Jericho Road placed second in the nationwide Communities Take Root competition sponsored by Edy's Fruit Bars and the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation, which is providing fresh fruit orchards to dozens of communities across the United States. The orchard will complement the community garden that already exists in the Faubourg Delassize "sub-neighborhood" of what some people call the Uptown and others call Central City.

“We’re so excited,” said Brad Powers, Jericho Road’s executive director. Besides winning the orchard, he noted, “We’ve gotten so many connections from all over the country.”

“Friends of friends of friends” passed on news about the contest, where supporters could vote daily for their choice of possible orchard recipients, he explained. Watching the rising tallies, he said, “became sort of an addiction the last three weeks.”

Jericho Road’s final vote total reached 11,500, placing it second among the five winning projects, he said. “We have just random stories about offices around the country voting.”

Planting likely will occur in October on a 50- by 125-foot site, Powers said. While the organization doesn’t know yet what fruit trees will arrive, or how big they will be, citrus trees would be a traditional crop for the region, he said.

A resident group in partnership with Jericho Road will decide what to do with the harvests, much as six to 10 “hard-core gardeners” help to run the community garden and determine what to do with the produce, he said.

The garden and orchard are part of Jericho Road’s foray into “long-term green and urban food-related activities,” Powers said. Next up: a native tree arboretum.

Already, two Louisiana State University graduates have expressed interest in supporting that project, and Jericho Road also is applying for a grant for the arboretum, he said.

Meanwhile, Tulane University’s City Center designed a shelter for the community garden that will be installed soon. Jericho Road plans similar shelters for the orchard and arboretum to provide shade from the sun and space for programming, Powers said.

The executive director said he hoped the Communities Take Root contest raised awareness of Jericho Road’s work, even among those who didn’t vote for it. He found himself reading about other applicants’ programs on the contest website, he said. “Most people have quite a compelling story. So we’re hoping that random people started reading about us. We’re hoping even people disconnected from our previous networks now are aware in some manner of our work.”

Jericho Road’s roots lie in helping New Orleanians gut their flood-damaged homes and otherwise reclaim a place to live after Katrina, but it has expanded its mission.

The organization's "core idea, which we still have, of creating housing" soon grew as the staff saw that high-quality, low-cost housing was "one piece of an orchestrated effort that we've come to discuss as community revitalization," Powers said.

Jericho Road has fostered relationships among residents with programs such as a "Pumpkin Walk" in which 10 families who initially didn't know each other opened their homes to 400 people who came out at night to celebrate Halloween. And, in an area that once was the recipient of midnight waste dumping, residents are discussing whether the proceeds from a lemonade stand should go into the community garden or into the next event.

"We would never have been able to pick out of thin air that an orchard was something that a bunch of residents would want to have in their neighborhood," Powers said, adding that such ideas are what come of "trying to provide confidence, trying to provide improvements to the built environment, trying to link residents to each other and trying to brand the area a little."