In 1992, Dr. George Elle, a retired Texas Tech University Associate Dean of Agriculture, approached the South Plains Food Bank to see if its representatives would be interested in having an apple orchard to provide fresh fruit for its clients. Despite the thoughts of impossibility due to the region’s climate, in which the food bank is located experiences record-setting heat, dry spells, the representatives approved the undertaking based on Dr. Elle's expertise in the area.
The following year, with land from the Kingsbury family and support from the Rotary District 5730, Dr. Elle began the arduous task of planting 1,200 trees himself. He hand watered each tree in the hot July sun one gallon at a time. The following year, he planted an additional 1,300 trees, supervised the installation of a fence around the orchard and a drip irrigation system. Each year, he alone has pruned each tree.
In 1997, he coordinated the first harvest, which netted 30,000 pounds of apples. This year, the crop produced 59,000 pounds. The food bank educates its clients to eat more nutritionally; the apples provide clients with tools to do just that. The apples are used for food boxes, charities and in community kitchens. Eventually, as the trees mature, the orchard is expected to produce up to 400,000 pounds of apples annually, of which a portion will be dehydrated and shipped worldwide.
Many of the volunteers who work with Dr. Elle during harvest are senior citizens. As they return each year for their work, they share a sense of ownership and pride in the orchard and build connections between themselves, the food bank and those who are served by it. Operators of the food bank have expressed gratitude for Dr. Elle and his providing volunteer opportunities to older citizens, who might otherwise be isolated and uninvolved.
Dr. Elle, now 84, continues to volunteer eight to ten hours a day, sometimes seven days a week. He receives no stipend or salary.