By Greta Mart
A vegetable-powered bus transporting a group of educators and performing artists will soon arrive in Martinez to plant fruit trees and spread the good word: sustainability.
Common Vision, a non-profit based in Ukiah, is comprised entirely of volunteers and tours the state on an educational mission to plant fruit trees on school campuses and bring environmental education to life with music, theater and a day-long adventure.
“Since 2004, the Fruit Tree Tour Program has directly impacted 80,000 students, transformed over 180 low-income schools and community centers into abundant orchards with the planting of over 4,300 fruit trees,” according to the organization. “Every year 20-30 volunteers board the world’s largest vegetable oil powered caravan on a 2.5 month mission to change the urban landscapes of California.”
Spokesperson Paul West summed it up best: “We are just like Johnny Appleseed, except we put trees in the ground rather than scatter seeds.”
The Common Vision tour comes to schools at the invitation of administrators or teachers.
Upon arrival, the crew perform a 40-minute assembly that “weaves colorful stories, larger than life puppets, a live band, and relevant, engaging environmental education,” said West; after which the students and crew get busy planting fruit trees.
“This orchard will be the first step that students are taking to redesign [MUSD’s Environmental Studies Academy and GreenHouse Academy] campus to become a certified Schoolyard Habitat and food-producing organic garden. We are calling this project our Living Laboratory project,” said instructor Dr. Rona Zollinger.
West said the program is extremely popular amongst California public schools, particularly in urban and low-income areas.
“There was a time when orchards were commonplace on school campuses. You can think back to the days when orchards and victory gardens were bringing sustainability close to home. We try to work as much as possible where there is a large number of students in the federal school lunch program or where there are ‘food deserts,’ where there are lots of liquor stores on every corner but virtually no access to fresh food for young people,” explained West.
The Common Vision program is free to schools and supplies are donated “through our relationship with nurseries around California,” said West.
After the initial plantings and care workshops, the folks at Common Vision will return periodically to instruct on maintenance and provide follow-up.
On Wednesday, the crew arrives with a plan to install 12 fruit trees on the Vicente/Briones campus.
“We need community members to be a part of an Orchard Care Team. This team will provide year-round maintenance of the newly planted fruit trees. Community members will work alongside high school students to care for the orchard,” said Zollinger.