fruit trees

Joe Brehm, former Ecohouse resident and Environmental Studies graduate student, plants a berry bush in the Ecohouse garden. The Ecohouse, a University owned sustainability-focused educational house for student living, is located on Dairy Lane.

Photo courtesy of: Lori Gromen

fruit trees

One of the pear trees that was planted around Athens as part of a community orchard and mapping initiative led by former Environmental Studies graduate student Lori Gromen

Photo courtesy of: Lori Gromen

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Student initiative brings future sustenance to Appalachia

An OHIO graduate project plants and maps public fruit trees

The transformation of leaves to vibrant reds and yellows and the sea of orange that fills the pumpkin patches each October alert Ohioans that the apple harvest has arrived. But for many, the fall bounty is out of reach.

That may soon change, thanks to a fruit planting and mapping initiative led by former Ohio University graduate student Lori Gromen. The project aims to provide fresh fruits to the community free of charge through the planting of trees on public property.

Community Food Initiatives (CFI), a non-profit grassroots organization promoting culinary self-reliance and knowledge in Southeast Ohio, approached Gromen to collaborate on the establishment of community orchards.

"I was asked at the exact time I was looking for my graduate project. It was a win-win," said Gromen, who graduated with a Master of Science in Environmental Studies in June 2010.

Gromen's project adviser, David Holben, a professor in the School of Applied Health Sciences and Wellness, soon joined the collaboration.

With his research emphasis on food insecurity and related health issues, Holben received a grant from Fulbright Canada in 2009. The grant financed his 2010 ECOhio Garden project, which included funds to add more fruit trees to public and University property.

"Everything came together at the perfect time," Gromen said.

Gromen was responsible for researching the best locations and most hearty fruit trees for Athens. Ohio State University Extension, which brings knowledge from Ohio State's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center to Ohio counties, was her most valuable resource.

Her objective was to select those breeds that would endure without pesticides or other chemicals to be consistent with the organic requirements that Athens and CFI uphold.

Gromen also looked for locations with high community investment, where CFI encourages the adoption of area trees. For instance, the pear and apple trees behind Village Bakery & Cafe on East State Street are cared for by the bakery employees, but the harvest is available for anyone.

CFI's Executive Director Ronda Clark said the team encouraged "labor on the backs of the people" to illustrate the importance of self-sufficiency.  

The initiative broke ground in May 2010 with the planting of about 25 trees. The City of Athens donated land, mulch and soil to the project. Ohio University students, faculty and community members assisted the plantings. Gromen also created an online map, hosted by Google Maps, to alert residents of the crops' whereabouts.

"Access to fresh produce is poor for families with low incomes," Holben said. "Planting the fruit trees and providing a map to the public as to how to find the trees is vital to access for our community."

Clark said the main objective now is to keep the trees alive. Her hope is that the trees will eventually produce an overabundance of food for CFI to give away at pantries and for citizens to pick for eating and canning.

Although the harvest will not be ready for three to five years, CFI plans to continue to market sustainable, local food through gardening, their donation station, educational workshops and partnerships with schools.


This special Compass series features the programs and initiatives through which Ohio University students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends are realizing their promise as they elevate lives across the region. These people-focused success stories take you behind the scenes and highlight the many meaningful ways OHIO serves society by supporting educational, economic, creative and wellness endeavors, as well as other humanitarian efforts.

Related Links

Community Food Initiatives* Public fruit trees map*

Additional Info

*Following this link takes you outside of Ohio University's website.