Members of a local farm project are grounding their passion for a native Michigan fruit tree -- by planting a new grove of pawpaw trees.
It will be located at the intersection of Wyandotte and Lumpkin streets, not far from the Kowalski Sausage factory in Hamtramck, Mich. The group responsible for the project, Hamtown Farms, will hold a groundbreaking for the orchard on Saturday.
Pawpaws are fruit-bearing trees native to North America that are found throughout the eastern United States. According to the University of Kentucky, they contain 3 times as much vitamin C as an apple and have a higher protein and fat content than apples, bananas or oranges.
The fruits looks a little like an elongated pear and has a unique taste.
"The moment I tasted them I lit up," orchard organizer Michael Davis told The Huffington Post. "They taste like a banana and a mango and a little citrus."
Davis first tried a pawpaw in the backyard of Robert Swartz, a retired chemist with special interest in native plants who lives in Sterling Heights, Mich. Swartz and his daughter, Julie, are both part of the Hamtown Farms leadership team, along with Davis, Evan Major and Jeffrey Doe.
Davis, a 35-year-old advertising agency employee, has lived on Wyandotte street in Hamtramck for eight years. Inspired by his love of pawpaws and motivated by a desire to spruce up several vacant lots in his neighborhood, Davis began planning the orchard about a year ago. He's received a $5,000 EcoStar grant from the Constellation Energy company, but Davis has had to front the money himself until the check arrives. The orchard is also getting support from local businesses like Cafe 1923, Avalon International Breads, Maria's Comida and Sterling Oil, which donated 40 cubic yards of compost to the effort.
The grove will eventually take up about an acre of land spread out over nine city lots when it's completed in 2015. While volunteers will plant 13 pawpaws on Saturday, the group is cultivating many more saplings in pots using seeds they've obtained from a secret location in Sterling Heights. They plan to populate the grove with 200 trees in total -- and not just pawpaws. The orchard will also include eight cherry trees, eight pear trees and 30 hybrid hazelnut bushes that will be used to form a hedge.
Davis said his group will make sure the orchard is maintained and sell what fruit isn't picked by local residents at places like Eastern Market and the Hamtramck Farmer's Market. He is eager to have the neighborhood involved in the project.
"It's going to be open to the public. It will have raised beds for people to grow their own vegetables plaza and a pumpkin patch -- and hopefully in the fall we'll have a harvest festival," he said.
Davis is aware of the controversy surrounding the recently planted apple orchard in Detroit's Palmer Park, but doesn't think the pawpaw grove is likely to stir up much opposition from the city or local residents.
Hamtramck's mayor Karen Majewski is on board and will deliver opening remarks before Saturday's planting. Local youth have also joined the cause, especially by keeping the neighborhood, with it's many Arabic-speaking residents, informed about the project.
"The kids helped translate so they could hand out fliers about groundbreaking day," said Davis. "Everybody loves it, especially on Wyandotte Street."
The orchard's groundbreaking and volunteer planting day takes place on Saturday, June 9th from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 9100 Lumpkin in Hamtramck. For more information visit www.facebook.com/hamtownfarms or www.hamtownfarms.com.
Flickr photo by frankenstoen