Over the last month, a group of eight young adults with Americorps NCCC has been serving the Fremont community by assisting the Fremont Area Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together by building and fixing up homes in the area.
With their time in Fremont coming to a close, the Americorps NCCC Team Cedar 7 are prepared to complete their service to the community by planning and organizing a service project of their own.
On Saturday, the team will hold their Community Service Day by cleaning out a lot owned by Habitat that will become a community garden next year.
“It’s a pretty big mess right now, there are branches and weeds and all kinds of stuff,” said Joy McKay, Executive Director of Fremont Area Habitat for Humanity. “They are hoping to get a few raised beds built as well, but they are trying to do as much as they can to try and get it ready so we can plant next year.”
The Americorps team will be cleaning and building raised beds from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday at the lot, 712 W. 1st Street. They are looking for volunteers to help them out at any time throughout the day, whether that be for an hour or eight.
Those interested in volunteering can pre-register at http://bit.ly/2vQHD6a, or by contacting Fremont Area Habitat for Humanity on their Facebook page or by calling 402-721-8771.
“They have set up their own online registration and people can let us know, or just show up, they will take any help they can get,” McKay said.
The lot was previously used for storage by Habitat, and the organization also had a previous community garden at the location in 2015.
“It’s a lot we have had for quite a while,” McKay said. “We tried to put a garden on their two years ago and we had a lot of help from Three Rivers Health Department and the UNL Extension office so we had a decent garden. Last year we didn’t have their help and I’m not a gardener, so it was unused last year.”
In the past the garden was used mostly by Habitat families, but McKay wants the new garden to be used by anyone in the community willing to take the time to plant, water and harvest.
“What we have done before was focused on Habitat families that could come out, they helped plant, weed and water and then could take whatever,” McKay said. “We want anyone who is living around there to be able to do the same thing. We want it to be open to anyone that needs something to do, or needs fresh vegetables.”
Though most Habitat-owned lots are used to build affordable housing for partner families in the community, this lot is not slated for construction any time soon.
“It is right up against the railroad tracks so our plan is not to build a house there but we still want to make use of the land,” McKay said.
This is the first year that Habitat applied for the grant that brought the Americorps NCCC team to Fremont, and the team has proved invaluable to the local non-profit this summer.
“It’s been really good for Habitat and the community having them here,” McKay said. “They have helped out tremendously on our construction sites, and we do so much with volunteers that we always need more, so having them here gave us eight people we could count on every day.”
Since coming to Fremont, the Americorps NCCC team has helped build three Habitat houses and completed a number of duties in the HomeStore. They also assisted Rebuilding Together on Tuesdays to help fix the homes of families and senior citizens who cannot afford repairs themselves.
Along with serving the community and helping out a local non-profit, the Community Service Day project will also feature free lunch from one of Fremont’s newest restaurants.
“Raising Canes has donated food for lunch tomorrow for the event, so people who are helping around lunch time can enjoy some chicken fingers,” McKay said.
The Fremont Public Schools District recently renewed its contract with PepsiCo. During an August FPS Board of Education Meeting.
Following 10 years of doing business with the Coca-Cola Company,, in 2012 the district switched to Pepsi products, FPS Superintendent Mark Shepard said during a Friday interview with the Tribune.
“We went with request for proposals and both (companies) responded to that request,” Shepard said. “And basically, their pricing structures were very similar.”
That contract consists of making annual payments to the district’s activities and athletics programs, as well as providing donations of products to be used at various events.
“So you will see, for instance, Gatorade bottles and containers at sporting events,” Shepard said.
Pepsi products will continue to be served in all vending machines – at Fremont High School and Fremont Middle School – and anytime a concession stand is open. All vending machines are 100-percent owned and operated by Pepsi.
“So we don’t do anything with those machines,” he said. “They buy them and fill them and then they take the money out of them. We then get a report that shows volume numbers and we get a commission on each sale.”
During school hours, students, per national and state standards, are not allowed to purchase any sugary carbonated items from the machines. Each machine has an interval timer that doesn’t allow students to purchase these products until after school hours.
Gatorade, water and other similar products are available for students to purchase during school hours.
While on its face something like a contract of this nature doesn’t seem too noteworthy, Shepard said it actually does make a difference.
“In the past we’ve had Coke, and now we have Pepsi – they both were great partners,” he said. “This is something that helps subsidize our student activities and athletic programs. It gives us some opportunities for students that otherwise would be more difficult financially.”
With Fremont entering the Emerald Ash Borer quarantine zone around a year ago, the news came with the realization that the town would suffer great tree loss.
The insect, which infects Ash trees, was identified in Omaha approximately a year ago to numerous expert’s dismay. Now it is a virtual fact that the pesky creature has made its arrival in Fremont.
“They say that the borer is in Fremont, they haven’t seen it but they know it has to be here,” City Administrator Brian Newton said during a Friday interview with the Tribune. “Within 10 years almost every ash tree in Fremont will be dead because of the Emerald Ash Borer, because we see that happening east of us. As it travels west it absolutely decimates Ash trees.”
With every fifth tree in Fremont being an Ash, the landscape will undoubtedly be greatly altered.
“Over a year ago we were put in the quarantine area, we spoke extensively with an (Nebraska) Extension agent and then did an inventory by counting city trees and Department of Utility trees,” Newton said. “Several thousand will have to be cut down.”
With nobody allowed to take wood from the City of Fremont Dumpsite do to the quarantine – spreading infected wood is what transports the borers to new locations – the dump, which is already very full, would become unmanageable at a rapid rate.
During an Aug. 8 Fremont City Council meeting, the council approved a resolution authorizing the City of Fremont to accept a $478,000 grant by entering into an agreement with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) for grant funds to purchase a tree chipper/grinder.
The full expense of the machine, Newton said, is approximately $750,000. The machine will be shared with the City of Blair.
“So we reached out to the NDEQ for this grant, and I also reached out to Rod Storm (Blair City Administrator) and asked if this was something they would be interested in, because it’s something they are going to be dealing with, too,” Newton said.
Fremont is paying for 76 percent of machine expenses and Blair is covering 24. The breakdown of cost was based on city population size. One of the main reasons the machine is such a beneficial tool is because it allows the damaged trees to be put to good use rather than being burned or discarded in a land fill.
“The chipper is the best idea because we currently make compost already,” Newton said. “We just got a grant from NDEQ for a compost turner that turns the pile that allows us to make Class A compost that can be used in gardens, on golf courses and for other domestic types of things.”
The Class B compost being created is used for farm fertilizer, he said.
“Wood chips can be used to help make Class A compost,” Newton said. “Another thing we will do is grade them (chips) and sell them to people as mulch. We will re-grind it, color it and sell it for landscaping mulch.”
The chipper will cut the pieces of infected wood into one-inch chips, ensuring that the borers are killed in the process. In addition to being used as mulch and compost, the chips can also serve as bedding for livestock.
When people’s Ash trees begin dying, a small fee may be associated with turning trees over to the city, however, this will be cheaper and more convenient than hauling them elsewhere.
While it’s not an ideal situation, being proactive now is the smart move.
“If this is going to happen this is a good solution,” Newton said. “This (tree infection) is going to be happening all across the whole state of Nebraska, so we wanted to address this now and maybe pave the way for others to follow.”