Volunteers pick pounds of park’s pears

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter

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• The county acquired 4.4 acres for Foley Park as replacement property in 2006. When a project that included a sewer pump station took 4.4 acres from Salmon Creek Greenway, the county needed to mitigate the loss of park land.

• The county acquired 4.4 acres for Foley Park as replacement property in 2006. When a project that included a sewer pump station took 4.4 acres from Salmon Creek Greenway, the county needed to mitigate the loss of park land.

A former parks administrator was examining a list of park properties a few years ago and came across an unexpected asset.

What Jane Kleiner basically said was: “We have an orchard?”

Yep, although it was more of a blackberry patch, hiding 160 or so pear trees beneath acres of brambles.

Now the only orchard in the inventory of local parks is productive again, as it was for decades as part of Hubert and Ople Foley’s farm.

On a recent Saturday, volunteers gathered at Foley Park Community Orchard and picked 1,211 pounds of pears for the Clark County Food Bank.

The site east of Thomas Jefferson Middle School, just north of the intersection of Northwest 119th Street and 21st Avenue, is not a developed park. But a partnership of Clark County, neighborhood residents, volunteers and Urban Abundance has gotten the blackberries under control and kept the trees pruned.

Urban Abundance is a local nonprofit that works with cooperating growers to glean fresh produce before it goes to waste. This is the third year volunteers have harvested pears at the park — which actually continues a long-standing tradition at the farm.

“It’s just kind of perfect,” said Suzy Foley, one of Hubert and Ople’s three children.

“That’s what my mom and dad did,” Foley, who now lives in California, said. “They just liked to grow things and then give it away. You couldn’t leave the Foleys without a trunkful of squash” in your car.

Many of the Aug. 23 pear pickers were continuing another familiar theme on the farm: family involvement. Ben and Crystal Anderson were among the husband-and-wife teams.

“We’ve volunteered with Urban Abundance before,” he said. “We’re picking food for the food bank; I like it a lot.”

For safety reasons, ladders were not permitted. The pickers worked from the ground, using long poles tipped with baskets.

“I’d rather have a ladder,” Crystal Anderson said.

Others who made it a family event included Jane Kleiner, the former parks manager, and her husband Michael. Their 2½-year-old son Jake used his toy dump truck to haul pears. It wasn’t his first harvest.

“This is where Jake ate his first pear, right after he got his first tooth,” Jane Kleiner said.

Since the orchard is public property, anybody can pick the pears. Some of the harvesters were gathering fruit for their own families.

The gleaners only got about half the pears, so plenty of fruit was on the trees when they left, said Warren Neth, executive director of Urban Abundance.

The county acquired the 4.4-acre site in 2006, purchasing it from Hubert and Ople Foley for $1.4 million. As an undeveloped park, it didn’t get much maintenance from what was then Vancouver-Clark Parks & Recreation, Neth said.

Four years ago, a nearby resident called Neth and told him about the neglected orchard.

“I took a look. It was pretty daunting: 2½ acres of blackberries that had grown over the tops of trees,” Neth said. “I started conversations with Vancouver-Clark Parks. We came up with an agreement. If Urban Abundance made an effort to develop volunteer-led maintenance of it, they would make a first push of knocking out the blackberries.”

An inmate crew cleared the blackberries. The county mows two or three times a year. Volunteers take out thistles and blackberries that come back, Neth said.

It’s been quite a transition, said Tom Tucker, one of the volunteers who was involved from the start.

“When we first came into the orchard, you could barely see the trees,” Tucker said. “I spent two years pruning. There was a lot of dead growth and we had to shape the trees. It’s looking a lot better.”

His work also featured some family involvement.

“My great-great grandfather had an orchard in Hood River 100 years ago,” Tucker said. “I use his pruning saw. I think about him every time I use it.”