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'It’s just a very happy place': Rosewood Public Orchard providing fresh produce, community bonding for residents

The Rosewood Public Orchard at Owens Field is celebrating its 10th anniversary of providing fresh-grown fruits and veggies to residents while strengthening community

COLUMBIA, S.C. — It’s National Gardening Day and Columbia residents are spending time with fresh blooms at the Rosewood Public Orchard.

With organically-grown fruits, veggies and native plants, the orchard is a free place to learn about nature while building friendships. 

"It’s just a very happy place," Karen Murphy, co-orchard keeper, explains.

Murphy helps maintain the orchard, where community members can come enjoy nature completely for free.

"We have apple trees, pear trees, pomegranates, peaches, paw paws and recently we’ve been trying to add more native plants To let people know what plants were here before people started using pesticides and herbicides 'cuz we’re trying to…we garden without any of that," Murphy details. "It’s for the whole community and we get lots of visitors. Lots of children taste fruit off a tree for the first time. Some of them didn’t even know it grew on a tree!"

From kids to adults, visitors of all ages, like University of South Carolina students Adam Parris and Hunter Garrett, come to enjoy the orchard near Owens Field.

"I think that we should have more of these spaces all over Columbia," Parris shares.

He tells me it teaches an important lesson.

"I think that especially within Columbia there’s a lot of urban sprawl and there’s food deserts within Columbia and we live within a very rich ecosystem that produces a lot of food," Parris says. "I think people can see the value of producing food within their own ecosystems and distancing ourselves from large industrial food systems, and I think that will help us grow as a community."

Anyone can come harvest fresh fruits or veggies when they're ripe.

"It’s a little bit different than some community gardens because we don’t have individual plots where a family takes a plot. It's open to everybody. Everybody can come and taste the fruits and we frequently share the bounty of our harvest when we start harvesting thing," Murphy shares. "If you plant your tomatoes here that’s cool but somebody else might eat them. You know, it’s a collective space so you have to be kind of willing to be part of the big picture."

Part of that big picture is all working together to during scheduled workdays — or on your own time — to help maintain the garden.

"It’s a wonderful place to hang out and make friends," volunteer Marci Sutherland shares. "I've found a lot of great people to work with and laugh with and we have done some fun things."

Sutherland began volunteering when she moved to Columbia from Massachusetts, saying she’s found community among the plants.

"It's fun for me to come. I come on my lunch hour because I live nearby and I see teenagers hanging out and I see mothers with toddlers," Sutherland tells me. "And on the weekends I see a lot of people doing frisbee golf and they’ll take a little break and they’ll walk through and they'll pick some fruit or vegetables or they'll ask us questions."

"There are children in the community that we met when they were toddlers and they still come and now they're climbing the mulberry tree and they're like growing up here and they're getting the taste of interacting with a living place. They start noticing all kinds of things that you know aren’t in a textbook," Murphy adds. "There's a lot of learning going on and it’s a really great place to meet people because if you feel like talking you can, but if you’re an introvert you can just putter away in your section and have a good time with nature. So we appeal to a lot of different types of people."

With rain barrels, wheelchair-accessible planters, fresh herbs and more, there’s plenty to enjoy for anyone who wants to enjoy the spring weather.

"All kinds of things, like they weren’t there last week, and this week they’re blooming and it’s really fun to see them," Murphy shares. "They’re so pretty!"

The parent organization for the orchard is called Columbia Resilience.

"It’s a group that is trying to help everyone in Columbia become more resilient, especially with the reality of climate change and how it’s affecting everyone," Murphy says.

The scheduled workdays are every Saturday from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. and on Mondays from 5 p.m. until dusk.

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