Hundreds of students at eight Maine public schools got their hands dirty in orchard plantings this spring. Thanks to the nonprofit ReTreeUS, these grade school, middle, and high school students are leaving their mark for years to come. The organization, in its fifth year of planting, is dedicated to promoting an environmentally sustainable, socially-just food system through education, practical resources and mentorship. It lives up to its mission: before each planting is a lesson.
“We believe that by engaging students in the process of growing their own food and caring for trees, we can create lasting change,” says Richard Hodges, ReTreeUS Program Manager. This spring, a variety of 128 apple, peach, plum and pear trees were dispersed among the eight school orchards: Manchester Elementary, Oxford Hills, Walker Elementary, Ellsworth, Pownal, Connors Emerson, Newport, and Bath Middle School. Schools become eligible for their own orchard by applying to participate through ReTreeUS, and at no expense.
“The trees provide shade, look better, provide a habitat for animals and birds, and provide food for the cafeteria,” said Pam Lanz, school garden coordinator at Manchester Elementary. In about five years, these trees will start to produce fruit. For now, it’s an education in sustainability and understanding where your food comes from.
“I really like educational experiences like this. I've learned a lot already!” says a Bath Middle School student. Twelve varieties of apples and pear trees were planted among the orchards. “Often these kids think that the apples they see in grocery stores are the only varieties,” Hodges explained. “We are teaching them that types like Liberty, Enterprise, and Wolfe River also exist, and can be grown right here in Maine.”
The mornings began with the dormant trees soaking in water while students dug holes. They then mixed compost into the piles of soil from each hole and pushed the mixture over the roots to plant. “These are your trees,” Hodges says to the students at the end of each planting. The orchard is made complete with ReTreeUS signs about apple history, pollination, and its environmental impact to make the space accessible for self-guided tours.
The eight schools that participated in this spring’s planting have ended their day with a new orchard for all to enjoy. “Each orchard is a legacy in the school,” Hodges says. “Fruit trees take awhile to come into production, students watch the trees grow over time and know that they will be giving back to future generations.”
Apply for an Orchard Planting: ReTreeUS is now accepting applications for Spring 2018 school plantings. If your school is interested, learn more at retreeus.org or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.