Monday, August 23, 2010

PressConnects: CHOW Orchard Planting

Volunteers plant fruit orchard, reclaim neighborhood devastated by flood

By Nancy Dooling • • August 22, 2010, 8:15 pm

Where once there were houses, an orchard will grow.

More than 75 volunteers, including Nick Stento, 17, of the Town of Binghamton, on Sunday planted a fruit orchard on flood land in the Town of Conklin. (NANCY DOOLING / Staff Photo)

Not long ago, children played in this neighborhood of 12 houses between Conklin Road and the Susquehanna River.

Now the houses are gone, taken by the river that swelled out of control a little more than four years ago.

The former neighborhood is now "green space," owned by the Town of Conklin. The houses -- or what was left of them -- condemned and demolished.

Under the terms of a Federal Emergency Management buyout, no one can live here anymore.

But in their own way, people are slowly retaking the land.

On Sunday, more than 75 people -- some who had lived through the 2006 flood that put most of Conklin underwater -- planted an orchard of 35 trees. Next to the new orchard, sweet corn and other vegetables grow.

William Roe's daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter lived on Morris Street -- until their house got taken by the river, floating downstream while the flood was at full surge.

Don, Lisa and Faith Smith have moved on with their lives and now live on higher ground in the Town of Binghamton, Roe said.

But on Sunday, Roe was helping plant trees in the former neighborhood. "It's good to see this land put to good use," Roe said.

Emotions ran high for some who picked up shovels on a rainy Sunday morning in Conklin.

"I don't have words for it," said Debra Preston, Conklin's supervisor, who spent weeks, months and years rallying Conklin's residents and businesses in the flood's aftermath. Preston, like hundreds of others in the town, was left homeless by flood waters in 2006.

"I just can't explain it, what this does for us and the feelings we have," Preston said of Sunday's planting.

Apple, cherry, pear and plum trees should flourish in the rich bottomland along the river. In a few years, their fruits could help feed hungry people in the community, said Edward Blaine, director of Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse.

CHOW leases 7 acres of empty land from the Town of Conklin for its community gardens, Blaine said. The Binghamton charity provides the needy with food collected from churches, organizations, businesses and individuals.

The charity won the trees for the orchard after a six-week Internet voting contest in May. The trees were donated by the Communities Take Root program, supported by Edy's Fruit Bars and the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation.

The groups have recently planted orchards as far afield as India and Virginia, said Melanie Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman for Edy's.

Now it'll be up to the community to take care of the orchard, said Rico Montenegro, an arborist with the foundation. The neighborhood's hardship -- and its history -- add poignancy to the placement of the orchard.

"I think this makes the orchard more special," Montenegro said.

Some trees should begin bearing fruit next year. It'll take five to six years for the orchard to mature into full fruit production, Montenegro said.

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