By Diana Raiselis
One of my favorite things about Fruit Tree Tour is seeing how teachers and school leaders use their orchards as a tool for hands-on teaching, and for building community. After our visit to Birney Elementary in the San Diego area, I'm still thinking about how wonderfully Ms. Mindy has done this at her school. From the moment our bus rolled onto campus, I could see the vitality that the school garden & orchard brought to the campus: the rainbow-colorblocked storage containers that formed her outdoor classroom, brightly painted signs dotted planting beds, and the space itself was alive with students, working on the mulch pile and running between fruiting trees.
At Birney, Ms. Mindy tells me, working with plants is an essential part of the students' education: "Learning how our food grows is a part of learning how to be alive." As the program has developed, she has found ways to relate garden and orchard work to all aspects of the school. Food waste from the cafeteria goes directly to the compost program. Specialist teachers meet quarterly with classroom teachers to sync up their curricula. The garden serves as a teaching tool for lessons ranging from chemistry (soil pH levels) to world history (human development of agriculture) to animal behavior (butterflies' yearly flight south).
"A garden transforms a school." As the garden and orchard have expanded, Ms. Mindy's seen changes on a testing level--science scores have gone up--but also on an individual level, she's seen an increase in student confidence: "When you hand a pruner to a kid everyone thinks is 'bad' and he finishes the pruning job and comes back to you...'look Ms. Mindy, I got all the dead heads off the irises. Look at it!'"
So where does Common Vision fit into this school's program? For Ms. Mindy, Fruit Tree Tour is an opportunity to show her students that Birney's orchard and garden fit into a much larger movement: "It makes me feel like I'm not alone in this universe. ...You don't get often seen for what you're doing. ...but that whole experience of having [Common Vision] come...[it] made me want to bring them back not just for me, but for the kids to see that...there are these other people out there who are like this, who believe this, who know this."