Akwesasne Fruit Tree Project
The Akwesasne Task Force on the Environment (ATFE) has been working to restore the fruit tree orchard on Dr. Solomon Cook’s property behind the Adolescent group home for 10 years now for the benefit of the community. With ATFE’s hard work and commitment and the help of other organizations, this is one success story we can share with the community.
It all started with community members asking us to put on fruit tree pruning workshops so people can take care of any fruit trees in their yards. ATFE approached Dr. Solomon Cook to hold the fruit tree pruning workshops in his orchard. He gladly accepted our offer because his trees had been neglected over the years and he couldn’t prune all the trees himself because of his age and his health.
ATFE got some funding support from the American Friend Service Committee (AFSC) to hire Donald O’ Shea (Cornell Cooperative Extension Unit) to do the Fruit Tree Pruning Workshop. He also did a Fruit Tree Spraying workshop for ATFE members, so we would be able to take on this task as well and care for the fruit trees ourselves.
In the first years, there were hardly any apples on any of the trees. If there were apples on any trees, they were small and spotty. The key to getting good apples on any fruit tree is to prune every year, before the frost breaks, while the tree is dormant; to spray the fruit trees at a minimum four times a year to keep the diseases and pests from developing; to keep the grass cut around the trees; and to keep the orchard clear of any dead debris.
After a couple of years of doing this, Dr. Cook handed the orchard over to ATFE since we were the only ones that had shown an interest in it. He gave it to us under one condition - the community should benefit from it. After the funding ran out, Donald O’ Shea still came down to help us with the fruit tree pruning and spraying, because of the relationship he developed with Solomon and his willingness for this project to succeed for the community.
Whenever ATFE takes on an environmental project in the community, we like to involve the youth, so we approached the Akwesasne Freedom School and asked them if they would like to help us on this project. The teachers agreed to bring their students out in the orchard whenever we needed work done because it would help the students learn about the trees and why we need to take care of them. This is another relationship that has grown over the years.
After a couple years of work, we saw more and more apples develop on the trees. Dr. Cook also noticed this, so he pulled out an old cider press from the back of his garage. He told us we were going to need this for all the apples we would get in the fall. ATFE bought this for the Freedom School because of all of the hard work the students and teachers put in over the years to help us maintain the orchard. Now our students will benefit health wise by drinking nice fresh apple cider from our own trees in our own community.
A couple of years back, the apples started tasting bitter, even the ones that were picked in the later part of fall. Donald O’shea said there must be some nutrients missing in the soil. We
took leaf and soil samples from the orchard and sent them to the Cornell Cooperative Extension unit for testing to see what nutrients were missing in the ground. The next year, the results came back from the lab and we had to add lime and organic fertilizer to the soil around the trees.
This year was the year for apples. The trees are full and the apples taste delicious. Now we need help from the community to come and pick the apples and enjoy this bountiful harvest. This heritage fruit tree orchard was restored for the community. The more the apples that are picked, the less disease we will have in the orchard next year.
ATFE would like to thank all the people and organizations that helped out over the years, starting with Dr. Solomon Cook, Donald O’Shea, Marita Skidders, Margaret George (MCA Model Forest Program), Craig Arquette (ATFE), Chrissie Rizzo (AFSC) , Akwesasne Freedom School teachers and students, Donald Jocko, who helped with the pruning, and Ralph David for mowing the grass.