By Laura Christman
Montgomery Creek School students got a hands-in lesson Friday — they put their hands right in the dirt.
"Everybody pick up a handful of soil," Common Vision volunteer Rinah Segal told several students standing around a tiny pear tree. "In this handful of soil are billions of creatures too small for you to see. It's really amazing, huh?"
She had the students feel the soil, sniff it and then toss it into the pear tree's just-dug planting hole. They grabbed more soil and gradually filled the hole. When the little tree was secure, Segal and the students made a wish that it would grow strong and healthy and bring lots of pears.
The tree was one of 10 fruit trees (pears, plums, apples, persimmons and an apricot) planted Friday morning at the 70-student school off Highway 299 in eastern Shasta County. Emily Pires, 6, was happy to have the trees. "We want to be healthy. We really, really want these trees. We are really grateful," she said.
Other student gave the tree project good reviews, too.
"It was pretty cool," Leon York, 9, said. "Fruit trees are cool and fun and yummy."
"I liked moving the dirt, putting the tree in and watering it," said Russell Baker, 7.
The planting was part of Common Vision's two-week autumn Fruit Tree Tour that will bring fruit trees to 10 Northern California locations. The nonprofit group has planted some 5,000 fruit trees at schools and community centers in California during the past nine years.
Common Vision runs on the energy of volunteers who travel in a bus powered by recycled vegetable oil. With a solar panel on top and 10 volunteers and some 80 trees inside, the old Greyhound painted in bright colors looked like a greenhouse-on-wheels rolling in from the 1970s when it arrived at the school.Michael Flynn, Common Vision education director, said the group normally plants bare-root trees during a two- to three-month spring tour.
The bare-root trees are more like sticks — dormant and leafless — so they don't take up much space. The living, leafy trees in pots and bags for the fall tour have been a logistical challenge because of the room they require. Volunteer Melody Sage said it was tricky getting to her lower bunk — known as "The Squirrel Hole" — on the bus to sleep the night before. "I had to crawl through the trees."
After planting the 10-tree orchard and installing drip irrigation lines at Montgomery Creek, the volunteers stepped back into their botanical bus and headed down the road to Indian Springs Elementary School to put in a small orchard at the 14-student school in Big Bend. The fall tour marks the first time Common Vision has focused on rural areas. Whether children live in the inner city or remote locations, they are part of a culture of processed food, Flynn said.
"We're passionate about students having access to, and a connection to, real food," he said. " Fresh fruit off the tree in the schoolyard is one important step in making real food enjoyable, preferable and cool for kids."
Children who participated in Friday's plantings won't see the fruits of their labor for three to five years, but Flynn said that's part of the lesson. "It's done in the spirit of thinking down the line. That's essential for children to understand in today's environment."
Students benefit not just from the fruit provided by the trees, but by caring for the trees, he said.
"The fruit tree is a teaching tool," Flynn said. "The more love and energy and care you give to it, the greater the reward."
Common Vision works with teachers and community members to provide continuing care for the trees. The group suggests keeping the trees short — no taller than 8 feet — by pruning in spring and fall. "Kids can be part of the harvest, and ladders are not required in the care," Flynn said.
Common Vision is funded by donations, corporate sponsorships and grants. Big Bend Educational Foundation paid $400 to bring Common Vision to Montgomery Creek and Big Bend for the tree plantings. Indian Springs and Montgomery Creek schools paid $200 each to participate.
Ken Hood, who teaches fourth- and fifth-graders at Montgomery Creek, said the trees will provide information, flavorful fruit and good memories for the students who planted them. "I'm hoping that 20 years from now they will visit the school and go out and visit their tree and say, 'Wow, I remember when we planted that tree.'"