DETROIT (WWJ) – Emily Staugaitis had what sounds like an idyllic childhood.
“I grew up in a farmhouse in upstate New York on a couple of acres. So pretty much in the summers, I was just outside. My mom would just open the door and I was just outside all day, every day. So that really is my preferred space to be in.”
Flash forward to adulthood, and Staugaitis, who’s a contemporary artist, came to Michigan to earn her graduate degree from Cranbrook. After breaking up with her boyfriend, Staugaitis moved into a home in Hamtramck. One thing she noticed about the area — it was hard to find good fruit that didn’t cost an arm and a leg.
“And fruit shouldn’t be a luxury,” said Staugaitis. So she hit on an idea. The woman who makes art and has no experience growing trees, decided to plant an orchard.
Her mother, who’s a teacher, and father who works for a bank, don’t find it so odd. “I recently did my family tree…and if you look back from now until ten generations ago, everybody has been a farmer, or a gardener.”
Staugaitis has planted ten trees so far on a vacant plot of land at Main and Carpenter in Detroit, just over the border from Hamtramck. It’s situated within walking distance of five elementary and middle schools. The students who’ve helped this summer have received a treat. They got first dibs on the fresh strawberries she had planted.
The difficult part of owning an orchard is that it is a huge upfront cost. “It’s kind of a leap of faith,” said Staugaitis.
The ten trees are six feet tall so far and will take three years to bear fruit. She is hoping to get a grant to go forward and plant 250 trees in all, which at full production in about four years would produce 27,000 pounds of apples
“I’m just kind of learning as I go,” said Staugaitis. “And also, learning to accept help has been really big. And recognizing that this a project that has goals that are bigger than me. And I can’t do it all on my own and really being open and vulnerable and saying, ‘Okay, I’ll accept help.’ And people have really stepped up.”
When she presented her project before a Hamtramck charity recently, Satugaitis said, she discovered that someone had anonymously donated to the orchard. “Two of these giant water containment tanks had just appeared. Miraculously.”
Staugaitis isn’t yet sure how it will all pan out and where and if the apples will be sold. The important part, she said, is that she now feels part of the community, where she has literally planted roots.
“I’m committed to his place and I’m committed to these people, and it seems to be reciprocal.”
[You can follow Emily’s progress on the orchard at this link]