Drizzle and mist didn’t stop Stacey Sanborn’s fourth grade class from digging in the dirt to plant their share of fruit trees around the Manchester School campus last week. Four classes planted nine trees, three pear and six apple, with Richard Hodges from ReTreeUS, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting an environmentally sustainable, socially just food system.
“The trees provide shade, look better, provide a habitat for animals and birds, and provide food for the cafeteria,” said Pam Lanz, who helped coordinate the project, through Maine School Gardens.
“We tried to do this last year, but didn’t get the approval,” said Sanborn. “We wanted to add more food here.” Sanborn and her class work tirelessly in the greenhouse growing vegetables, now they can add fruit to the list of food they produce.
The classes involved in the garden and orchard projects are: Sarah Zima’s, Sabrina Nickerson’s, Jennifer Ocean’s and Sanborn’s. The students were involved in every aspect of the project from deciding where to put the trees, plotting out the distance between trees and the fences and digging the 24-inch deep holes.
“I like digging the holes and squishing the clumps of dirt,” said student Deanna Cooper.
Hodges brought dormant trees for the children to plant, explaining that it’s the best way to transport the trees. “It’s got good roots too. They’re an anchor for the tree,” Hodges told the students as he guided them not to crush the roots. The trees are also disease and pest resistant and won’t require the use of chemicals to treat them. Coast of Maine donated compost for the trees.
“It’s great for the environment,” said student Claira Parker.
The teachers reinforce what the classes have been learning as they dig, plant, compost and water the trees.
“The more kids are thinking about their own food, making their own food and for the environment, it’s something positive they can do,” said Hodges.
ReTreeUS started four years ago out of Durham, Maine. Hodges worked with different programs and nurseries to get products to get schools involved in planting fruit trees. Manchester School is the 20th school orchard in the state, said Hodges.
ReTreeUS plants orchards with local schools and provides educational programs that empower young people and their families to grow their own home orchards and gardens. Projects like the orchard get kids and adults outside. “It’s a legacy thing,” said Hodges. “It can change the outlook they have. It connects them to the school, nature and their food. Drawing their connection to that can be hard sometimes, he added.
Using apples from a tree leaning into Manchester’s space, Sanborn’s class helped Chef Sam Cowens-Gasbarro create applesauce last year. They hope to soon make foods with the pears and apples the students planted.
“We’re doing teamwork. It’s fun because we can take a break from class and we’re learning about planting,” said student Julia Dean.
Although it will be three to four years before the classes will have apples to harvest, the students doing the planting are excited to come back to see the “fruits” of their labor in a few years. Hodges expects to come back to teach about pruning the trees at a future date.
Public schools can fill out a free application to have their own orchards at www.ReTreeUS.org. The program is free for public school