Garden Trends: School Community Orchards

 

Screen Shot 2019-05-28 at 2.50.15 PM.png In recent years, more and more schools are planting orchards and creating outdoor classrooms. Pictured above is music teacher Albie Pickens who started a community orchard at his elementary school in Saratoga Springs, NY. Photo: Natalie Walsh

By Natalie Walsh

Albie Pickens, a fifth grade teacher music teacher at Geyser Road School in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., planted an apple and pear orchard with grant and community funding and created an outdoor classroom available to the entire elementary school.

His goal was to connect students with the natural world, a connection that was fostered in him as a child growing up in his father’s garden and that has stayed with him as an adult.

It’s important for students to understand where their food comes from, how much effort goes into a good crop, and the myriad things that can go wrong, he said.

From the beginning three years ago, his local and school community embraced the idea and funded the trees, picnic tables, mulch, deer fencing and other supplies that made it possible.

And if they didn’t give money, they gave of themselves. “We saved $8,000 by having volunteer labor,” Pickens said, adding that at least 200 people volunteered.

As a classroom, the orchard is one educational opportunity after another, Pickens said noting that he is a self-taught orchardist.

Students learn about insect pests, organic controls, grafting, pruning, harvesting and that growing food may not be simple but it is gratifying.

“It doesn’t have to be perfect to be a learning opportunity,” he said, adding that sometimes more is learned when things don’t go right.  You can solve one problem only to have another show up.

It’s real life, he continued.  Students learn what is takes to grow fruit, the damage insects can cause, the joy of eating a apple off the tree and connect with their world in the process.

And the orchard has been fruitful. At the Orchard Fest held in the fall, cider pressed from their apples is served.

To maintain the orchard of 20 trees, Pickens has organized an Orchard Team of teachers who are able to use the orchard in their curriculum and a Grow Club before school program for students.

He does most of the maintenance himself. “You can’t give a third grader a sharp clippers.”

Instead, he teaches why fruit trees need pruning, and hands out an illustration of an unpruned fruit tree. Students mark which branches they believe should be eliminated. Adults do the pruning.

In the future, he hopes to bring an arborist to the school who can hold a workshop so more people can learn about pruning fruit trees and help in the orchard.

His students have learned about different fruit varieties, grafting and root stocks and Pickens has some fresh grafted pear trees in a nursery for future planting.

“We have plenty of space,” he said, adding “The community orchard will only get better with time.”

Natalie Walsh, a board member of the American Community Gardening Association, is a master gardener and horticulturist who travels across North America writing articles about community gardening and orchards.  You can reach her at natalie.walsh@communitygarden.org

 

American Community Gardening Association Column for Community Gardeners

My first column for the American Community Gardening Association was published today in ‘The Cultivator.”

It is my hope that a dialogue will begin among the thousands of ACGA members as we share our experiences.

I hope you enjoy it.

Natalieprtraitshot

Ask Natalie

At ACGA we recognize that the collective knowledge of our members is our greatest asset.

And we know from your emails that you have interest in everything from the ground up, including issues such as soil quality, raising funds, supporting volunteers and building community.

There are concerns about what vegetables to grow, food justice, water purity and gardeners looking for tips on what makes a community garden sustainable in terms of the people involved, volunteer support, cost and garden practices.

To this end, we are launching this community gardening column.  The goal is to support each other by providing tried and true experience on what works.

Community gardeners can email questions and each month we will address different concerns, show you images of what other community gardens are up to, share successes and sage advice.

As a team we are supporting not only our own community but the network of community gardens that are our members.  We collectively have knowledge and know-how based on years of experience from all our garden members from Key West to Canada and from coast to coast.

As an organization, we are experts on this subject and can help one another. Each of us brings something to the table.

I am a journalist, horticulturist, Master Gardener and community garden creator.  In the past two years, I have traveled more than 15,000 miles from Maine to Hawaii talking with garden directors about their experiences.  I learned so much.

In the coming year, I’m hoping to share what I learned with you. Just as I am hoping you will share your stories with me.  How did you get started? If you were to start over again, what would you do differently? What tips do you have to share? What challenges have you faced? What do you consider your garden’s greatest success? Do you compost? Do you have any tips?

Even tips you may think of as small can have a big impact. For example, watering plots during the summer can be an issue. One clever gardener I met suggested that anyone who wasn’t going to be to able to water stick a blue colored stake in their plot to indicate they were away and asked their neighbors water for them.  It was a huge help to the gardeners. And an asset as neighbors helping neighbors builds community, friendships and trust.

I look forward to sharing dozens of other tips and answering your questions. Send your emails to: Natalie.walsh@communiygarden.org and look for answers in our monthly newsletter.

The actress Helen Mirren wrote that gardening is about “learning, learning, learning. That’s the fun of them. You’re always learning.”

This is an opportunity for us to learn from one another.

Thank you for sharing. I’m eager to hear from you.

Warmly,

Natalie Walsh, ACGA board member and an enthusiastic visitor of community gardens and orchards.