Sunday, April 1, 2007

Stewarding trees on the road

How does Common Vision’s veggie-oil powered caravan carry 1,000 fruit trees for 3 months? Bare-rooted, dormant, cold, and moist in a 20’ long vegetable-oil powered refrigerator on wheels, of course… Taking proper care of all these trees while on the road is no small task. Fruit Tree Tour volunteer Brenda Whitney has taken on the responsibility with ceaseless dedication for the past two years. Our beloved Tree Steward now reveals to the world what caring for all these trees entails.

Each tree planted on Fruit Tree Tour passes through the hands of the crew's Tree Stewards numerous times before being planted at a school in a workshop with students. This year the Tree Steward role is being filled by a dynamic trio of women: April, Koral, and myself, Brenda. As the sole Steward last tour, I am grateful for the shared responsibilities this year, as well as the opportunity to return again and learn even more about the trees we plant.

The job is a quiet, behind the scenes, daily commitment that requires watering the trees morning and night, as well as pulling out a school's "order" for trees to be planted during the next day's program. Thankfully it can be done alone, or together, any time of day or night, and can be a peaceful meditation. Sometimes it requires driving with Maggie, one of the crew's original Tree Stewards, in the refrigerator truck to pick up trees being donated by a nursery. It is always exciting to see where our trees come from, and meet the people who are giving them to Common Vision for the Fruit Tree Tour schools. It's a joy to see the inside of the truck filled with another 50-300 trees waiting to be planted at schools.
We store all our bare-root fruit trees in a large refrigerator truck in order to keep them at a temperature below 45 F, which keeps them in dormancy (or asleep) as they are in winter time. The inside of the truck has been built up with wood to create a trough for the trees to live in, and lined with waterproof material for watering. We pull the trees out 24 hours in advance of planting them at school, to allow them time to acclimate to the climate outside. Its fun to tell the students during planting that they are not only giving the trees a permanent home, but also helping to ‘wake up' the trees, making them think its spring, and time to start growing.

Sometimes the caravan will carry up to an additional 50 potted trees of varieties that don’t go dormant or that don’t store well bare rooted. Citrus, Loquats, Cherimoya, Tropical Cherries, Pineapple Guavas, Sapote, and the Ice Cream Bean all need to be carried in pots. On days when the caravan rolls to a new location, we load all of the potted tree into one of our truck beds, and unload them at the next campsite.

I've been learning a lot more this year about the trees. As a Midwest and East-coast transplant to California, I've been learning a lot of new interesting varieties, such as the Cherimoya and Loquat. I’ve been reveling in the abundance of fruit that grows well in this region, but only comes as rare treats back home, such as citrus, figs, and avocados. I've also been learning a lot more about tree care, including pruning, grafting, irrigating, and planting regionally-specific varieties. We also keep an inventory of all the trees planted at each school, to keep a record of the orchards we leave behind each year, and to be better able to check up on their progress throughout the year as the schools continue to care for them.

Each time I plant a tree with the kids, or in the program's closing circle, I think of all the love and care that went into bringing that tree to that school, and the number of times I visited and held that tree before leaving it in its new home with the kids. We usually circle around the tree at the end of each planting, and make a parting wish; I often think of how grateful I am for such an abundance of fruit, of my role in helping to spread that abundance, and of my desire for these students to find as much joy in bringing the abundance of nature to their communities as I do.

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