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MAXTON — The Lumbee Tribal chairman is hoping the addition of an orchard to the tribe’s Cultural Center here will combat food insecurity and reconnect people with the environment.
“That’s one of the things we’re working towards is eating fresh foods in season that are healthy for you, and to combat food insecurity,” Harvey Godwin Jr. said.
Using money from a Community Services Block Grant, 120 fruit trees were stored in the Henry Berry Lowrie house and planted over the course of the past two months on two of the more than 40 acres of land at the Cultural Center. The project is the latest of several initiatives, including the addition of a greenhouse and garden, to make the Cultural Center a source for locally grown produce for the Lumbee people.
“The purpose of starting the garden was to address food insecurity amongst the Lumbee people and to get back to healthy eating — just getting back to the land, getting back to the environment, getting back to raising our own food,” Godwin said.
Thirty Chester blackberries were the final trees planted in the orchard. The orchard also consists of 30 blueberry trees, 15 pomegranates and a wide variety of trees that include apple, peach, nectarine, pear, cherry, fig and persimmon, said Patrick Strickland, tribe Program manager.
The plants were transferred from Ison’s Nursery & Vineyard in Brooks, Georgia.
“We planted toward the front of the property to allow visitors to see the fruit trees in full bloom once they mature,” Strickland said. “The peaches are already flowering.”
In addition to trees, 30 grapevines were planted in the Cultural Center’s new vineyard, which will expand by an additional acre in the future, Strickland said.
The establishment of the orchard and vineyard has been five months in the making.
“That time period included the planning stages, selecting the vines, securing the funds, ordering the plants and planting,” Strickland said. “We wanted to pick trees that were native to the area as well.”
The Cultural Center awaits pecan trees for planting next.
Getting the Cultural Center’s gardens, orchard, greenhouse and vineyard fully operational so the next tribal administration could inherit them has been one of Godwin’s goals. With the help of Center employees and individuals like Buddy Dial, that goal had come to fruition.
“He helped get the Cultural Center cleaned up,” Godwin said. “He is just one of many people in area that just really give back to their community. They just do it and you don’t hear about them every day.”
Last summer, the Center’s garden yielded a variety of seasonal vegetables that were delivered to the doorsteps of elder members of the tribe. During times like these, with the pandemic, being able to produce your own food will be key to better health, Godwin said.
“Seventy-five or hundred years ago, you didn’t eat tomatoes in the wintertime unless you canned them,” Godwin said. “You didn’t go to store and buy fresh tomatoes, so there were certain foods we ate in-season and I think we were a lot healthier then.”
During those times, most Robesonians had gardens or farms, grew their own vegetables and processed their own food.
“To a degree we have to get back to that,” the chairman said. “If we get a harder pandemic than this one we may not be able to find 50% of the foods that we can currently.”
In addition to being a source of food, the orchard will serve as a way to connect youth and elders back to environment. Godwin said the reason trash is such a problem within the county, is because of this disconnect.
“That gets back to people not being fully engaged with the land and not fully engaged with the environment,” Godwin said. “That’s one of the core values of not just the Lumbee people, but just humanity in general, is our connection to the land and to the environment. We have to protect it.”
This will come through bringing youth and elders out to Cultural Center lands and starting a discussion on where food comes from and just how much the environment sustains mankind.
“All of these things can be brought just by growing a simple orchard,” Godwin said.
The Lumbee Tribe will hold Earth Day Ceremony at the new orchard at 10 a.m. on April 22.