By Heather Ah San
Fresh fruit and vegetables are no longer regular food groups for children.
Fast food and junk food are now commonplace in lieu of more expensive and, to most children, less tasty fruits and vegetables.
Within the past few years elementary schools across America are trying to increase children’s exposure to fresh produce by planting school gardens that they later use for school lunches.
Cleo Gordon Elementary School in Fairfield recently jumped on the school garden bandwagon with the help of a grant provided by the nonprofit Common Vision.
The school just started planting trees for its new fruit orchard, likely later to be named the “Gordon Memorial Grove,” according to Principal Cindy Brown.
“Everyone’s been very excited about the project,” Brown said. “And we have the perfect niche for it.”
The project started early in the school year when Cleo Gordon’s food service company Sodexo came to them with the idea.
The school took interest and soon applied for a grant from California-based Common Vision.
In December the organization gave them not only grant money but their tree-planting services and resources as well.
“(We) inspire schools about growing locally and helping the environment,” said Common Vision Director of Education Michael Flynn.
The nonprofit has assisted orchard planting at more than 180 schools and community locations throughout California, Flynn said.
Although Common Vision assists with preparing the grounds and materials, students at Cleo Gordon are an integral part of the tree-planting process, Brown said. They are the ones who will be eating it after all.
Last Tuesday, students in grades third through fifth planted a variety of fruit trees with the help and wealth of knowledge from the Common Vision team.
They planted a variety of fruits, including apples, pears, plums and tangerines, which will be fully grown and ready to pick within the next few years, Flynn said.
The students surrounded their tree of choice as Common Vision members taught them about how trees are fed, how they help the planet and how they’ll leave a lasting legacy.
Brown also hopes to leave a legacy by creating a memorial within the orchard. With parent and community support, the school’s plan is to surround the garden with bricks memorialized for those they’ve lost. She also hopes that creating a community memorial will help deter abuse and vandalism in the orchard.
Brown is also excited to have a garden in the middle of the city, something that is rare or unheard of in Fairfield.
For most students, she said, gardening and local produce is a completely foreign concept. Her hope is that Cleo Gordon’s orchard will change that.