As the five year anniversary of one of the worst floods in La Porte City’s history draws near, a cooperative venture between Union Community Schools and the City of La Porte City seeks to turn the natural disaster into an educational opportunity and a source of fresh produce for the community. Last week, members of the La Porte – Dysart FFA Chapter planted several apple trees near Union High School on two lots at the intersection of Main and Oak Street.

Five years ago, the homes on those lots received significant damage when record flooding inundated portions of La Porte City. As a result of the flooding, the homes were among several in La Porte City bought out by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In accordance with the buyout, the homes were demolished to establish green spaces that are now owned and maintained by the City of La Porte City. Federal guidelines place restrictions on how the land can be used and prevent the construction of new homes or other structures to be placed on these green spaces. They also require that plans involving the placement of other objects on the land be subject to FEMA’s approval.

Last year, the La Porte – Dysart FFA Chapter presented a plan to use the Main Street lots in an educational and economic way, to create a community orchard. The orchard would provide the community access to fresh fruit, while also serving the school district as an outdoor laboratory for Ag. science classes.

Once the 28E agreement, a document specifying how the City and school district will work together to make the Community Orchard project a reality, was agreed upon, a number of apple trees, including varieties of honeycrisp,  gold rush and liberty apples were planted. As part of the agreement, La Porte – Dysart FFA and Union Ag. Science will continue to manage the orchards, design and place public signage, conduct educational activities for the community and market the harvested produce to local outlets. In addition to providing the school use of the two lots, the City will continue to mow and assist the school in maintaining the sites.

Before the next phase of the Community Orchard project can be completed, which involves planting varieties of grapes and raspberries to accompany the apple trees, approval from FEMA must be secured because these crops will be planted in raised beds.

If everything goes according to plan, the La Porte City Community Orchard could bear fruit in the form of raspberries in the fall of 2014, with the addition of grapes in 2016 and apples in 2017.

COMMUNITY ORCHARD -  Two lots at the intersection of Main and Oak Street in La Porte City are now home to apple trees planted by members of La Porte - Dysart FFA Chapter, as part of a community orchard venture. Photo by Jane Whittlesey.

COMMUNITY ORCHARD – Two lots at the intersection of Main and Oak Street in La Porte City are now home to apple trees planted by members of La Porte – Dysart FFA Chapter, as part of a community orchard venture. Photo by Jane Whittlesey.