Monday, March 4, 2013
Innovative AG programs promote community participation in school orchards
You’ve seen the orchard at Stephen White Middle School featured in our recent 5-minute video report on Fruit Tree Tour. This orchard is also special because it’s part of an innovative hybrid model where students and community members cooperatively care for it.
The school’s innovative AG program provides city-dwellers a place to grow food and provides the school with the volunteer base that it needs to keep its garden and orchard thriving. Part of the deal is that the school gets an allotment of garden plots and fresh produce to educate and nourish students. It’s a match made in heaven!
Shortly after we planted the orchard in 2011, it fell fallow due to adminstrative turnover, and their cherimoya tree didn’t survive the transition. Enter Javier, the owner of a local garden and landscape company. Javier stepped up early on to help care for Stephen White Middle School’s orchard, and when the cherimoya that we originally planted gave up the sap, Javier replaced is right away. That’s the kind of community support we are seeing at more and more of our maturing orchards across California.
The happy ending, or rather new beginning, to this report is that Stephen White Middle School is reinvigorating its once-thriving AG program. When it first opened in the 1950s, the campus included over an acre of land set aside for an urban farm. Hard to believe, huh? Its sister campus, Peary Middle School–also the home of a Common Vision orchard–shares a virtually identical campus design. It’s super inspiring to see both schools get back to their agricultural roots in the heart of LA’s urban sprawl.
Another orchard hero is Henry Washington from Peary Middle School. He’s not only got a green thumb but he is an awesome role model in and out of the orchard. It is beautiful to watch the kids return his kindness in spades with massive mutual respect. It’s our third year working side-by-side with this local legend, and their apples are some of the sweetest we’ve ever tasted.
In the words of Leo Buc, these communities are "doing a super fantastic job showing how school orchards can bring, and keep, people together, even, and especially, during a transition in leadership.”
You’d think school orchards could save the world or something. We do!