Harvesting hope: How a non-profit apple orchard is fighting poverty in Kosciusko County

When it comes to addressing domestic food insecurity, food banks are one visible stakeholder in communities. But food banks tend to be more transactional in nature, with recipients perhaps not feeling as engaged with the cause.

The Community Apple Orchard in Winona Lake is trying to change that.

Individuals, families and groups can pick and take home apples for a fraction of the price you’d pay in the store. All apples are organic and can be picked and bought during the fall harvest season for 25 cents a pound. Community members can even "adopt" a tree share for only $10 a year.

The Community Apple Orchard has 14 different varieties of apple trees.

The nonprofit orchard, which uses organic practices, also partners with food banks to distribute the fresh fruit. In other words, it’s a grassroots approach to poverty reduction. And poverty is something that can be easily overlooked in Kosciusko County, which boosts a great deal of wealth from the orthopedic industry. In addition to apples, the Orchard also has blueberry bushes available to its volunteers as well as organic, raw honey.

Even so, more than 10 percent of the population lives in poverty, according to 2016 data from STATSIndiana. Since low-income families often experience food insecurity, the Community Apple Orchard is one solution to that problem.

The organization's mission may not be unique, but its origins are more obscure. Some might call it the best-kept secret in Kosciusko County. 

What was once an abandoned 11.5-acre orchard was transformed into a working enterprise, through the support of a key partner (who wishes to remain unnamed). In 2010, nearby Grace College agreed to fund the cleanup and reestablishment of the property. The college still supports the orchard operationally, but the profits are reinvested to cover the expenses and keep prices low.

That’s where Dugan Julian, a Community Apple Orchard board member and Grace College employee, enters the picture.

“I serve as a liaison between the orchard and the school and use both roles to leverage better community relations,” says Julian. “So I became that bridge between the two.”

Julian, along with fellow volunteers, helps to maintain the orchard and assists with activities like operating the cider press.

He says he’s proud of their efforts to reach people in need and make healthful food more accessible. In seasons past, they’ve harvested up to 40,000 pounds of produce. They also host community picking days as to avoid anything going to waste. Volunteers maintain the Community Apple Orchard.

“We’ve really leaned into what we’ve been given,” he says.

Julian says their business model is unique. He’s aware of for-profit orchards in the area, but doesn’t feel threatened by them.

“We’re not trying to compete (with them),” he says. “We’re very much focused on making an impact in our community.”

The orchard is open through October and possibly into mid-November.

Harvest hours are:

Tuesday: 3 p.m.-7 p.m.
Thursday: 3 p.m.-7 p.m.
Saturday:, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

Other times are available by request. Call Mike at (574) 551-0117 to schedule a visit.

Follow the Community Apple Orchard on Facebook for updates.

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.
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