Wilmore wins grant to build 'edible walkway'

Wilmore's community garden soon will be joined by a grant-funded walkway of berry bushes and fruit trees. Photo: John Chesser

Wilmore resident Kris Steele knew his neighborhood was a food desert, an area with little access to fresh food. But it didn’t hit him what that meant until he saw neighborhood kids streaming in and out of the corner convenience store carrying bags of candy. To get there, the kids walked past a rusting chain-link fence beside a field off Kingston Avenue.

Steele, an avid gardener, had an idea. What if, instead of that rusting fence, the kids passed by pear trees and berry bushes, plucking them as they walked? Maybe they wouldn’t go to the convenience store as often.

The idea, called an “edible walkway,” earned $2,500 as one of two city Keep Charlotte Beautiful neighborhood beautification grants awarded last week. The grant will help the Wilmore Neighborhood Association and Calvary United Methodist Church, which owns the property near the fence, tear down the old fence and build a new one, then plant trees and bushes beside it. The neighborhood is also partnering with Casteen Lawn and Tree, which will assist by lending heavy equipment, Steele said.

Planting should start this fall, though the mix of trees along the 300-foot walkway hasn’t been determined yet. Possibilities include pears, apples and peach trees, as well as blueberry bushes and grapevines. Some plants could bloom as soon as spring 2015; others might take a few more years.

“It depends on the maturity of the tree,” Steele said. “It’s an investment in the neighborhood.”  

The edible walkway, the first of its kind in Charlotte, beat out 34 other proposals. That’s the most in the Keep Charlotte Beautiful program’s 40-year history, says KCB Program Manager Louise Bhavnani. The other grant the program issued was $1,900 for a community garden at Ben Salem Presbyterian Church on Monroe Road. The church will maintain and harvest the garden with help from East Mecklenburg High School, Independence Regional Library, CASCADE Services and apartment complexes in the area. A 17-member volunteer board, appointed by the city, reviewed the Keep Charlotte Beautiful applications. Selection criteria included cooperation with other organizations as well as the feasibility and sustainability of the proposed projects, Bhavnani said.

Steele said demolition of the fence at Kingston Avenue and South Mint Street should start sometime this summer. To volunteer or for more information on the project, contact Steele at kasteele11@gmail.com. Follow Keep Charlotte Beautiful on Facebook and on Twitter for updates on the program or next year’s application process.