More than a dozen volunteers were busy digging, planting and watering 50 apple trees Thursday afternoon in a vacant lot next to the Billings Salvation Army.
"We're always telling people we're 90 percent community and 10 percent garden," said Maj. Kevin Jackson, head of the local Salvation Army.
The apple orchard is a part of an ambitious community gardens project the Salvation Army has undertaken, one that will create a network of gardens all across Billings over the next few years.
With the orchard, students up to 18 years old involved in Salvation Army programs will harvest the apples for home and for sale, make cider for sale and market their wares.
The money they make will go into a college fund for the students.
"The kids will take over once the trees are in the ground," he said.
Helping with the planting on Thursday were volunteers from AmeriCorps VISTA, the Montana Conservation Corps, the Salvation Army's Service Corps and a few homeless men in charge of bringing the compost used in planting the trees.
The compost comes from a business started in part by the Salvation Army and staffed by homeless men.
The Salvation Army and the Rimrock Foundation teamed up last year and obtained a $300,000 grant. It's a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development grant to start a composting business that came through Billings' community development division as part of the social enterprise/homeless initiative.
Boyd Strissel, a member of the local Salvation Army's board of directors, watched as the crews worked and said volunteerism is key to what his organization is trying to do.
"They're all ready to do something," he said. "That's the main thing -- they're all willing to work."
Volunteer Elizabeth Gross smiled in the late-afternoon sunshine.
"We we're praying for good weather," she said.
She was ready to work. In fact, she and her peers had been ready to travel this summer to India and work. But visa delays rerouted them to Billings.
Based in Hawaii, her crew is part of the Salvation Army's Service Corps, a young adult program that sends Salvation Army soldiers across the world to help others for a summer.
Be it Montana or India, "my team's very excited to serve," she said.
The Salvation Army has plans for a second apple orchard to go in next year next to the one being planted now. But the site is a parking lot right now, so the asphalt will have to come up first.
In all, organizers plan to plant 300 apple trees. The idea, Jackson said, was to start small.
"It's going to be a pretty nice little garden," Strissel said.
Contact Rob Rogers at email@example.com or 657-1231.