FRUITLAND PARK – There’s something exciting happening out at Warren Willis United Methodist Camp: an environmental stewardship program that’s been “under the radar” for several years.
A decade ago the camp purchased a 19-acre orange grove, using it primarily as a buffer from adjacent development while keeping it in mind for long-range planning ideas. “It just sat there,” said long time camp volunteer John Lundin, whose wife Sandy works in the camp office. “So we thought about what we might do and put together a plan.”
The grove is home to two types of fruit. The Ambersweet orange, developed in Orlando in 1989 and harvested late in the year, is described as large with an easy-to-peel skin and a tart-sweet, slightly spicy flavor. It has few seeds and plenty of juice. The Hamlin is a medium-size orange ranging in color from deep yellow to true orange. It can be peeled for sectioning, but Hamlins are tart and best for juicing.
John Lundin picks oranges for food bank.
Lundin has been involved from the beginning. “I started working in the grove, then someone talked to someone at a Bible study about taking better care of it, and there was a conversation on a golf course.”
Camp staff, he said, were fully behind the stewardship idea. “(Camp Director) Mike Standifer said we need to be better stewards of what we have right now, that we should take care of it,” Lundin recalled. Assistant Camp Director Heather Pancoast has also enjoyed watching the grove transform into a ministry. “As we expanded our volunteer base, we began taking better care of the trees,” she said.
Gradually, the extra attention of a few volunteers morphed into a full-scale program that harnesses volunteer groups, gleaning ministries, and summer campers.
“Each year large groups—many from New Covenant UMC in the The Villages—come and pick thousands of bags of fruit to be given away,” Lundin said.
“We give our summer high school campers the option to spend one of their activity groups working in the groves,” Pancoast added. “They help clear overgrown trees. Each week, 10-to-15 campers choose this option as a way to give back to the camp. It really has been a tremendous ministry run mostly by wonderful UM volunteers.”
The program started in earnest in 2006 and benefits eight-to-10 area food banks. By 2008, 2,600 bags of Ambersweet oranges were harvested. 2009 saw a yield of 5,800 bags. In 2010, impacted by the latest freeze, the count was back down to 2,500.
Additionally, the Society of St. Andrew (www.endhunger.org), a nationwide gleaning mission, comes in and supplies food banks throughout the state.
“Lots of camp friends and neighbors own groves, and they come by with good advice,” Lundin said. “A lot of people are interested. This year the Future Famers (of America) group is bringing in bee hives to help pollinate the trees.”
All in all, the growing ministry has provided countless volunteers with hands-on stewardship experiences as well as being a blessing for food banks.
“It was a little intimidating to start with,” Lundin said. “I had no idea what to do. But many friends of the camp have been very helpful. It will never be a true commercial venture, but we’re definitely going to take care of what we have.”
News media contact: Gretchen Hastings, 800-282-8011, firstname.lastname@example.org, Lakeland
*Hastings is executive editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Maul is an author and freelance writer based in Valrico, Fla.