Tucked into the Little Prairie Community Garden in Peterson Park grows a donation garden that yields tons of fresh produce distributed by local nonprofits.
With 7,500 pounds shared in Douglas County so far this year, it has already surpassed last year’s bounty by a ton and a half. And the garden’s donation orchard will expand, too, this weekend in partnership with nonprofit organizations aiming to end food insecurity.
Darin Brunin and Jeff Platkowski, orchard co-managers, need a hand planting 15 apple trees from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Oct. 23, at the city-sponsored park, 2250 Peterson Road. The trees have been provided by Caterpillar Foundation, One Tree Planted and Kansas City-based The Giving Grove.
Although it can take up to five years for apple, pear, peach and plum trees to mature and bear fruit, it’s all for the “greater good,” Brunin said of the orchard’s ultimate goal of having 70 fruit trees for the community to access. “Anybody within the community — when the fruit is ripe — can come out and pick however much they want and harvest and enjoy those fruit trees. And, hopefully, not only enjoy the orchard aspect, but we want it to be a park within a park, where people can just take walks too.”
Brunin, an experienced storm chaser whose day job is now in renewable energy, moved back to Lawrence from Colorado in 2016, a year after his sister Danielle Brunin and friend Bridget Meier helped start Little Prairie Community Garden. Brunin dreams of a world where hunger and food insecurity no longer exist.
“Hopefully we inspire some people out there,” Brunin said, encouraging those who share his vision to reach out to him with ideas or interest in volunteering via email at email@example.com or the donation garden’s Facebook page. “People always ask, ‘How much are you getting paid for doing this?’ The answer is, ‘Nobody’s getting paid anything.’ It’s all us just trying to do good for the world … and get good food to people.”
Those interested in helping Saturday can RSVP via the donation garden’s event page on Facebook. Brunin said the event needs a minimum of 15 volunteers but welcomes as many as possible because “there’s always stuff to do.” Volunteers should bring a shovel, if they have one, and gloves. Organizers will provide coffee, donuts and water.
Can’t help Saturday? Brunin, who also co-manages the produce donation garden alongside Christie Fleek, said a variety of ongoing help is needed from the community to plant, maintain and harvest donations. All the produce — tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, sweet potatoes and more — goes to community organizations that feed neighbors in need, including Just Food, the Sunrise Project and Lawrence Community Shelter. A Douglas County Community Foundation grant and other donations helped boost yields in 2021, according to Brunin.
And recently, Brunin and Platkowski discovered a new way to give to local youth: free jack o’lanterns. Volunteers took an acre of unused land in the donation garden and planted pumpkin seeds. In the end, they donated 260 pumpkins to children through nonprofits.
“That was a really cool project,” Brunin said of bringing Halloween joy to local youth.
Brunin said the community garden portion for rent contains 56 plots shared by 30 local families. That part of the garden is managed by Barry and Christy McMurphy. Find the Little Prairie Community Garden Facebook page here.