By Steve Neavling
Leave it to Detroit City Council to turn a peaceful apple orchard into a heated, divisive issue.
Forget the city’s other problems, like chronic poverty, high illiteracy rates, tens of thousands of vacant homes and a budget shortfall that could land Detroit in bankruptcy court.
When council members learned Tuesday that volunteers recently planted about 500 adult apple trees in an orchard in Palmer Park, they went ballistic and pledged to tear down the orchard.
“We are truly talking about disrespecting the people of the city,” Councilwoman Brenda Jones said of the apple orchard.
Added Councilwoman JoAnn Watson: “We should stand and support this resolution,” which calls for demolishing the orchard.
The problems? An elderly and former civil-rights advocate living next door to the orchard is afraid the apple trees will attract all kinds of rodents. And the council maintains that the volunteers never received approval from the legislative branch, despite the green light given by two city departments and the Mayor Dave Bing administration.
Is that reason enough to kill an orchard that could bring thousands and thousands of apples to the community?
Council is so furious, most members said they won’t even consider this afternoon’s testimony by the orchard volunteers, who are a pleasant and friendly group with the goal of sprucing up a city that has been falling apart for decades.
And never mind that many east-side homes in the 1970s included apple and peach trees.
“We wanted to teach children about gardening, make cider and give residents something extra,” Leonora King, an organizer and supporter of the orchard, told me Wednesday. “The trees are here for the good of all.”
What about those mysterious, mammoth rodents that are going to crop up, even though council acknowledged it knows nothing about the upkeep of the orchard – or anything about it for that matter?
“There is no harm to the community,” King insisted. “We have professional master gardeners. We have people who are trained in this kind of planting and will make sure that rodents aren’t a problem.”
City Council meets at 1 p.m. on the 13th floor of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center.
If you’re interested in going, come early because Council President Charles Pugh refuses to use the big conference room for council meetings after large, angry audiences began filling the room.
Don’t have time to go, email your council members or call them. Visit the city’s website for contact information.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.