AUGUSTA — Nine schools across Maine will receive new educational orchards with the support from a local nonprofit program, ReTreeUS. In total, 168 well established fruit trees will be planted, varieties of apple, peach, pear, and plum. The organization, whose mission is to promote an environmentally sustainable, socially just food system, is expanding its reach across the state and educating students of all ages. Hundreds of students will get their hands dirty in the soil this May, all while helping their school and the environment.
School plantings will be held around the state, from New Gloucester to Winterport. The schools being visited in late April and early May are:
- Hall-Dale School, Hallowell
- Dunn Elementary, New Gloucester
- Poland Community School, Poland
- Agnes Gray Elementary School, West Paris
- Maine Children’s Home, Waterville
- Atwood Primary, Oakland
- Brooklin School, Brooklin
- Monroe Elementary School, Monroe
- Leroy H. Smith School, Winterport
ReTreeUS will also be planting orchards at Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment and in collaboration with a sustainability project in Patten, Maine.
“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. Hodges has been planting at schools throughout the state for the past five years. He’ll lead classes in a lesson on their role in the orchard, starting with a conversation about the impact growing their own food has on their health and that of our planet.
Next comes the planting, with Hodges providing step by step instructions as classes come out to help. Mornings begin with dormant trees soaking in water while students dig holes. They then mix compost into the piles of soil from each hole and secure the mixture over the roots to plant, followed by spreading a ring of mulch and a good watering.
“These are your trees,” Hodges says to the students at the end of each planting. The orchard is made complete with educational signage overviewing the environmental, health and cultural importance of growing sustainable fruit trees and to make the space accessible for self-guided tours.
Additionally, each orchard has a designated Orchard Caretaker (O.C.) located at the school or partner organization that works with ReTreeUS staff to provide ongoing maintenance and learning opportunities. “Each orchard is a legacy in the school,” Hodges says. “Fruit trees take awhile to come into production, but students watch the trees grow over time and know that they will be giving back to future generations.”
ReTreeUS is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit program under United Charitable. Its mission is to promote an environmentally sustainable, socially just food system through education, practical resources, and mentorship. ReTreeUS plants orchards in schools and provides educational programs that empower people to be healthy environmental stewards. Since breaking ground in 2012, ReTreeUS has planted 21 educational orchards across Maine with nine additional plantings scheduled for Spring 2018. To learn more, visit www.retreeus.org
—Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry
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