Cooperative Orchard of Ypsilanti changes leadership to better reflect surrounding neighborhood

Owners of the Cooperative Orchard of Ypsilanti (COrY) on Ypsilanti's Southside recently transferred leadership of the orchard to a new team that is primarily Black, better reflecting the makeup of the surrounding neighborhood.

The new president is Noah Rucker, and the vice president is Gary Bey. Rucker and Bey were the founders of gardening organization Kingdom Builders and worked on the community garden at Parkridge Community Center in Ypsilanti for many years. The board's new secretary is Michelle Shankwiler, its treasurer is Sonja Brandon, and its head of fundraising is Akiba Tucker.

The orchard got its start in 2011 when a dozen people, led by Ypsilanti resident Lisa Bashert, combined resources to buy a pie slice-shaped piece of land at 473 Jefferson St. in Ypsi. The idea was to own it cooperatively and split the harvest 12 ways each year. The orchard's first line of fruit trees was planted in 2013. A second row of trees was added in 2015, and a third row in 2017, after COrY organizers bought another oddly-shaped and "unbuildable," according to Bashert, lot right next door to the first one.

Plans have been in the works for about a year to transfer leadership of the orchard.

"They wanted to transfer it over to Black leadership, being that the neighborhood is 80% Black," Rucker says. "And so they felt they were reaching out to somebody who would be a good steward of the land."

Rucker had already been running a youth gardening program on the COrY property for about four years with students from the nearby WSC charter academy to plant vegetables and herbs in a small garden bed. As part of his Health Economics curriculum, Rucker brought students to work on the garden inside COrY every Wednesday throughout the summer.

While the leadership has changed, Rucker says the cooperative model will stay in place. Kingdom Builders has been in stasis for the last few years, but the two organizations might be combined in some form in the future, Rucker says.

"Right now we're just taking over the old format of COrY, and soon we'll be able to implement our own programs," Rucker says. "We'll see how we can build a bridge between COrY and Health Economics and Kingdom Builders."

The newly formed board is still going through the by-laws, examining the structure of the organization, and refining its mission to "spread healthy living and gardens across the community," Rucker says. There's also an official website in the works.

Rucker says a number of programs will take place on the COrY property this spring, including some programming for youth. Those interested in events or more information about the orchard are encouraged to follow the organization's Facebook page.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of Noah Rucker.
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