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Neighbors celebrate Hillside Public Orchard's 5th anniversary

As cars whizzed by on Central Entrance, a group of kids gardened among rows of potatoes and neighbors gathered to eat food made with ingredients from the Hillside Public Orchard.

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People gather at Hillside Public Orchard Tuesday evening for a fifth anniversary party for the orchard. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

As cars whizzed by on Central Entrance, a group of kids gardened among rows of potatoes and neighbors gathered to eat food made with ingredients from the Hillside Public Orchard.

The orchard has added the sights and sounds of neighbors gathering and wildlife stopping for a rest to the corner of Central Entrance and East 10th Street - a place that was likely blacktop before the grass was added.

"There were never hummingbirds here," said Kristin Stuchis, one of the organizers who was among those celebrating the Hillside Public Orchard's fifth anniversary Tuesday.

The plot of greenery now provides a place where people can pick fruits, vegetables and herbs for free.

"It's a gift to the orchard to have people here," Stuchis said. "It's everyone's orchard."

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The orchard has benefitted the community by bringing people together and providing a bit of beauty, Stuchis said. Residents get to know each other while maintaining it, creating a neighborhood feel to the area. Staff from neighboring Udac Inc. also uses it for walks and helps out by watering the plants, said Jen Stenersen, who created a butterfly garden there.

"We hoped to connect people with the earth and with each other, and we've definitely done that," Stuchis said.

Stenersen noted that the frequent visits from the neighbors also keep "shady" activities out of the park. Others respect the area because they see the neighborhood respecting it, she said.

Stuchis explained that studies show that areas with more trees have less crime and that vegetation can have a calming effect.

There's been a learning curve for the organizers during the past five years. Some trees have been replaced after the polar vortex struck a few years ago. A section of blueberries didn't thrive next to Central Entrance and is being replaced by honeyberries and raspberries.

"We roll with what's working," Stenersen said.

The produce is chosen so that there's always something to harvest in the orchard throughout the year. It's good to grow items that people recognize and the strawberries are a popular item that gets picked quickly when ripe, Stenersen said. Signs are posted giving instructions on when and how to pick specific produce. They noticed that people didn't know how to harvest produce and added the signs, Stuchis explained.

A butterfly plant sale is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 11 at the Hillside Public Orchard. Funds from the annual sale go toward maintaining the orchard.

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