116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — An Iowa City West High School graduate has received the highest award in Girl Scouts for creating a community-powered orchard dedicated to providing fresh fruit for those in need.
Heidi Schmidt-Rundell, an Iowa City native who’s now a freshman at the University of Northern Iowa, has ensured that food-insecure people receiving assistance from local pantries won’t just get canned or frozen goods.
With six fruit trees planted at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Iowa City, Schmidt-Rundell has staggered the orchard’s harvests from August to November, making fruit more accessible through the year.
“I noticed that having good, nutritious food wasn’t always available for everyone in the community,” she said. “The goal of the project was to get more fresh fruit available in the community to those who don’t have access to it.”
With four types of apples and two types of cherries, the orchard has been organized to have a life of its own even with its creator no longer there. Thanks to community volunteers, Orchard for All will continue to be self-sufficient, donating most fruit to local food pantries and using some for pies and jams to raise funds for the orchard.
Over the last four years, Schmidt-Rundell, 18, spent 170 hours on the project — twice the time required to earn the Gold Award — by leading a team of volunteers to clear an area for it, installing a walkway and fencing and planting the trees. To continue to recruit volunteers, she created a slideshow that will teach them how to care for the orchard.
If you’d like to help care for the orchard, email Orchard for All at email@example.com.
The student learned more about food insecurity in the course of earning her Silver Award, for which she helped gather supply donations to a shelter house. The idea was sparked by a program at her church that donated vegetables to those in need from a nearby garden.
“I called the shelter house and asked if they needed fruit,” she said.
Using their preferences, she chose Honeycrisp, Gala, Fuji and Granny Smith apples. For cherries, she selected tart Star and sweet Stella.
Using a small $1,000 grant from Toyota and many in-kind donations, Schmidt-Rundell was able to start the orchard and put $200 into an account for future needs.
Along the way, the pandemic presented challenges to recruiting volunteers without the group presentations that she planned to rely on. Instead, she pivoted to recruiting virtually as much as possible.
When she met resistance with church members about having the orchard close to their existing garden, her knowledge base adviser, Lizann Bolinger, said Schmidt-Rundell refused to make the project small or concede.
“People put some road blocks up,” Bolinger said. “She found a way to do it.”
Bolinger, who has a background in science, helped guide her in writing grants and finding money to fund the project as it was designed.
“Heidi’s one of these people who has great ideas, but often they’re too big,” she said. “We had to figure out how to pare it down to something you could accomplish.”
Unlike an Eagle Scout project, Girl Scout projects earning the Gold Award must have a sustainable life of their own beyond the project’s end. The project must create sustainable change on a community or world issue by addressing the root cause of a problem, planning a solution and implementing it with a team they lead to drive change.
“It’s still kind of wild to realize this is something I’ve put together,” she said. “I’m excited to see how this organization blooms and how the orchard blooms 10 years down the road.”
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