Braver, kinder souls I have yet to meet … The mission: 210 baby apple trees, 10 local garden experts and volunteers, 32 degrees – get in, prune hard, and get out safely!

Ten courageous and altruistic community members, geared up in winter’s warmest, met at the Junction City Psychiatric Hospital today. Apparently, freezing temperatures and snow flurries were no deterrent to these generous folks.

Somehow, through sheer skill and determination, we beat both the odds and our original time goal, completing the mission in two hours flat. Brand new pruners courtesy of Food For Lane County (FFLC) executed perfect 45° angle cuts as we reshaped the trees into modified leader form.

Suckers and disoriented branches were promptly removed, and general thinning for increased light and air was flawlessly executed by our crew.From local Master Gardener legends, John Fischer and Tom Bettmann, to young and prominent farm instructors, Erika Winters (myself, U of O-Urban Farm) and Michaela Hammer (FFLC-Youth Farm), the number of experts in the field outnumbered the newbies! I led new gardeners through Pruning 101, while the masters sheared their way down the rows at Olympic speeds. Extra layers, warm apple cider, and roasted rosemary shortbread were shared freeheartedly. Needless to say, we got the job done with plenty of laughter and goodwill all around.The success of this project is a wonderful example of how the ripple effect of care and action can result in great change for our community. The original project coordinator for the hospital orchard fell ill after year one. With the priority goals of FFLC and the hospital revolving around feeding the hungry and caring for the mentally ill, pruning maintenance fell to the back burner.

I was first notified of this need last winter from a friend who works at the Junction City Hospital – the pebble was tossed in the pond. Certified in Horticultural Therapy, I highly value the healing benefits of a nature-based, seasonally interesting, and edible view from a hospital window. A self-described bridge builder, I reached out to the Urban Farm, FFLC, and the hospital to build momentum on a pruning party. The ripples of interest multiplied. Momentum continued to build as more and more interested parties emerged. Under a year later, that vision was fulfilled as the ripples of action reached the shore of success.

This day was a great reminder of how like-minded folks with a united purpose can accomplish anything despite the odds. Indeed, those odds were steep as I looked out my window this very morning and loaded up the tire chains … Ah! The things we do for that which we love! I was overwhelmed with gratitude to realize an 83% volunteer turn out rate, despite the day’s status as the coldest of the year! Those unwilling to risk the icy drive were even so kind as to reach out with notice.

Out in the field, I struggled to decipher which was sharper, the bite of the cold, the edge of my Felcos, or Tom’s sagacious wit. The low temps may have been the cracking whip that drove us to record-breaking pruning speeds, but nevertheless, Junction City Hospital patients now have a beautifully manicured, soon to bloom, natural focal point and fresh food source we hope they will enjoy for years to come.

Major thanks to Michaela Hammer from FFLC, Tom Bettman from the Master Gardeners Association, and Junction City Hospital administrators and staff for superb coordination, and to all the brave community pruning experts and volunteers who braved the blizzard in the name of baby apples! You are the true food heroes of our community.

Erika Winters, BA HT
U of O Urban Farm Instructor
Everbloom Consulting, Owner