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Common Vision brings tree-planting expertise to students

UKIAH DAILY JOURNAL

By Karen Rifkin

With the mid-day sun beating down on the valley of Ridgewood Ranch, they appeared simultaneously, seemingly choreographed, with pick axes and shovels in hand and began digging holes, about five feet apart, in a semi circle behind the gazebo of the La Vida Charter School classroom building. They are young adults, environmentalists, who share a common vision.

In 2005, Megan Watson, her husband, Leo, (both of Hopland) and Michael Flynn were working as volunteers planting vegetable gardens with students at continuation high schools in Los Angeles. When they introduced donated fruit trees the kids got really excited and felt like this was something that would last a long time, a gift they could give to the future. Inspired by their own students, the three founders of Common Vision realized they wanted to plant more fruit trees and work with students and schools throughout the state of California. With their idealism and one bus, they initiated the project.

The hard dark earth began to give way to the efforts of the volunteers and as water was added to the holes to further loosen the soil, the elementary-level children appeared from the school building, broke into small groups each surrounding one worker and one partially dug hole, and began working their own fingers into the muddy mixture further preparing the earth for the introduction of the young fig, persimmon, seigoa (pineapple guavas cultivated by local grower Mark Albert), Santa Rosa plum, apricot and apple trees.

"We had the bus back then because we were doing biofuel education and touring permaculture farms. To begin the tour we called friends and teachers who were already working with school gardens throughout the state. Since then it has been word of mouth carried by school garden networks, local food activists and fruit tree lovers," says Megan Watson.

She continues, "We are an all volunteer organization which travels in the spring and fall to plant fruit trees in school gardens throughout the state. This year we have worked with over 100 volunteers and our most recent two-week tour consists of 10 volunteers. Although it sometimes can be overwhelming to live and work communally with a small group of people, we have an incredible level of harmony working as a team. It has made it possible to accomplish things that we never would have thought possible and there are things we can do together that we could never have done on our own."

Sheri, a former resident of Maryland, tells the kids gathered around to use their little fingers as rakes to work the hard, dry soil. She says, "When I heard about Common Vision in February, I left home to join the tour. What better thing could I do with my life. Here was everything I loved rolled into one with a bow. It is so inspiring being with the kids."

Faith, another Hopland resident, has been with the project for four years and she claims, "There is nothing better I could be doing with my life. I left Orcas Island to join and never looked back."

Getting ready to put the tree into the prepared ground Billy explains to the kids, "We don't put chemicals into the ground because we want to protect our friends the bacteria, beneficial nematodes and mycorrhiza fungus which keep the soil healthy."

"We tour the state in the world's largest fleet of veggie powered vehicles. We have two buses, a box truck for trees, a road support vehicle, a pickup truck and a veggie Mercedes for errands. We are funded by foundation grants and corporate sponsors including Organic Valley, Nutiva, Vital Landscaping and Netafim. Our trees are garnered from large commercial nurseries and smaller regional ones. I even grow some of them myself. One exciting aspect here in Ukiah is working with the sheriff's garden project. The inmates have done a beautiful job creating gorgeous trees."

The kids have their own take on the whole thing.

"It's really hot work."

"It's fun."

"This is ordinary work for me."

"It's fun, muddy and dirty."

Back in the kitchen where it is cooler, Megan Watson thoughtfully explains the spirit of the organization, its mission. "We want to see kids taking part in creating a healthy future and help them to have access to and connection with real food that can nourish all of us. That is something that seems to be missing more and more every day in America, but we hope to change all of that."

Returning from outside where he has just planted another tree, Michael Flynn, co-coordinator, explains, "I came to understand environmental issues ultimately as social justice issues that disproportionately affect the poor locally and around the world. Being part of a generation of people ready to take care of the environment grew in importance to me. When we give to nature we are caring for future generations. Of all the tools to inspire children and adults alike, the fruit tree is long living, sweet and symbolic of what we need to be doing. We are passionate about kids having access to real healthy food and being part of sustainable solutions in their own school yards and communities.

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