- Associated Press - Saturday, January 6, 2018

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) - Shreveport resident John-Paul Young said he first saw the face of hunger when volunteering at a food bank as a young child.

That image from his early days at Noel United Methodist Church stayed with him as he grew older, learned about a sustainable living technique called permaculture, and plotted a plan to transform Shreveport.

Young’s vision is to plant more than 1,000 trees throughout the city, both to provide free and nutritious food for low-income people and to conserve the city’s plentiful rainfall and beautify the land.

He put on heavy boots, packed his shovel and headed out to Allendale’s Friendship House, where he and a new group called the Shreveport Orchard Squad set to work digging trenches.

The trenches are the first step in planting trees, Young said. He and the squad then will fill the trenches with dead wood and debris before planting trees.

Within five to eight years, Young said, the planted trees will produce “thousands of pounds of free organic food” for city residents while creating a focal point for community growth.

Louis Brossett, an Allendale resident who lives across the street from the planned orchard, said he was “beyond glad” that his neighborhood had been chosen for one of Young’s orchards.

“Can you imagine children picking apples or oranges or blueberries off a tree? Keep in mind they are probably getting candy at home,” he said. “I’m more than glad. I’m proud and blessed and joyous.”

Young’s original plan was to plant about 600 new trees on his family’s farm. He’s also planted fruit trees on the lawn of his Highland home.

But his vision has since branched out to include twice as many trees, with half to be planted throughout Shreveport.

Sites where Young already has started groundwork and tree-planting include Highland Park, Eden Gardens Elementary, Morning Star Baptist Church, Allendale Friendship House, 20 private yards and the Food Bank of Northwest Louisiana - the last in collaboration with friends from Shreveport Green.

Affordable, thriving tree choices for open spaces in a temperate climate like Shreveport’s include figs, plums, peaches, pears, apples, persimmons and blueberries, Young said.

“I call them orchards, but they are really more like small forests made of many types of fruit trees, plus some native trees like cypress and chinquapin,” he said.

Christopher Robinson, a member of the Orchard Squad, said he connected with Young after searching for permaculture enthusiasts in Shreveport.

“Every neighborhood should do this,” Robinson said. “You hear about communities in places like Detroit taking their areas back, and that’s what we’re doing. This is a great way to start.”

Young said he also hopes to do a couple more projects, such as St. Luke’s United Methodist Church and University Elementary, and convert community empty spaces to “paradise-like conditions that can provide the basis for entrepreneurship, economy and beauty.”

Shreveport resident John Perkins, who helped dig holes for trees at the Allendale Friendship House, said he heard about the Shreveport Orchard Squad on Facebook.

He got involved because Young’s messages resonated with him.

“He said, ‘What if instead of signing petitions, we planted trees?’” Perkins said. “I’m also part of a board about reducing food insecurity in Allendale, so planting fruit trees also resonated with me.”

John Ratcliff, another Shreveport resident who helped, said he wants to help eliminate Shreveport’s “food deserts” - places where people have to walk or drive more than a mile for access to healthy and affordable food.

“One thing you want to be is food secure, so this project makes a lot of sense,” Ratcliff said.

Young and his Orchard Squad use a water-conserving design when planting trees, which also will help with curbing erosion and absorbing storm-water runoff.

Young said planting orchards also will help Shreveport’s economy. He said food-based economies are “inherently more valuable” than other types of commodity-based economies because they can sustain a population without bringing foods to market outside a given region.

“This is the only feasible way for Shreveport to escape the looming municipal debt crisis that every city in our nation will have to confront in the next decade or two,” he said.

Young said the orchards also will have educational benefits for children. Children who attend Eden Gardens Elementary, an orchard site, can watch trees grow, learn about flowering and fruiting, and “carry the knowledge of the natural processes that sustain us,” Young said.

Brossett believes that the children who visit the Allendale Friendship House will love the finished orchard.

“For a child to come out of the Friendship House and pick a fruit off the tree, that is the greatest thing,” he said.

Why did Young select Allendale Friendship House as a site? Simply: he was asked.

“I believe that anybody who asks me for help deserves my help,” Young said. “Filling up my city and my farm with water-catching gardens filled with fruit trees is my answer to the purpose of life on earth.”


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