Edgecomb Eddy School students in pre-K through sixth grade spent the school day planting an apple, peach, and pear orchard on Friday, Sept. 22.
The students learned about the process of planting and growing fruit trees and later got to put the lessons to the test with some hands-on experience.
The orchard was provided by ReTreeUS, a nonprofit that has planted more than 70 orchards throughout Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont since its founding in 2008. Next fall, the nonprofit will plant its 100th orchard.
Richard Hodges, founder and program manager for ReTreeUS, was in attendance at the planting, along with Shelley Kruszewski, the nonprofit’s program coordinator; Kevin Bowler, of the Boothbay Garden Club; and Cameron Bonsey, vice president of marketing for Coast of Maine.
Earlier this year, the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and the Boothbay Garden Club assisted students with planting a perennial pollinator garden to ensure that there would be pollinators aplenty when it came time to plant the orchard.
The students learned about how the “FBI” – in this case, meaning fungi, bacteria, and invertebrates – provides the soil with nutrients, what compost contains and how it is made, and how to graft trees.
Each class planted two trees, with students working in groups to dig holes, mix compost with soil, and pack the mixture around the tree once it was standing straight. Older students dug extra holes to make the process easier for the pre-K and kindergarten classes.
Hodges said he was thrilled by how attentive and enthusiastic the students were, including when they learned the compost contained crushed lobster shells, and how the community came together to make the project happen.
Having worked with many schools through ReTreeUS, he knows that it’s not uncommon for schools to not have funding for garden projects. Hodges also works with the Maine School Garden Network, which supports educational gardens in school to promote environmental stewardship and healthy eating.
“Unfortunately, that’s usually the case,” Hodges said. “We’d love to have there be a paid garden caretaker position, but most schools can’t afford it.”
Along with ReTreeUS, every step of the process was made possible by the people of the community. Funding was provided by First National Bank and the compost was donated by Coast of Maine.
“There’s just no budget for it – we couldn’t do this without this amazing community,” said fourth grade teacher Sarah Currier.
In addition to the pollinator garden and fruit orchards, students have a back to school garden, full of lettuce and other leafy greens, and a three sisters garden, which provides long term soil fertility by interplanting corn, beans, and squash.
“It’s a great way for the kids to learn because it’s outdoors and fun, but it’s also a social studies lesson,” Currier said.
The orchard will take years to bear fruit, and even longer to reach maturity.
“Some of these kids will probably be out of college by the time it’s done,” Bonsey said.
In the meantime, the orchard is a beautiful addition to Edgecomb Eddy School’s garden and a testament to its enthusiastic and hardworking students.