SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL
by Sarah Vickers
Two biodiesel-fueled buses, part of the second annual Fruit Tree Tour, will roll into Santa Cruz County in March, carrying educators, performers and soil.
Common Vision, organizers of the event, aims to disperse information and training to urban youth through education and tree-planting sessions across California.
"So often environmental ideas like "conservation" can seem removed to urban youth," said Michael Flynn, Common Vision education director. "Students often only once or twice get a chance to see environments develop."
So why Santa Cruz County?
Santa Cruz and Watsonville are not densely packed "urban" areas. But the organization also chose areas lacking fruit trees.
"The main way we decide where to go is by looking at cities on maps and saying ‘They need fruit trees,’ and then mapping out a route," Flynn said.
The group also visits schools and community centers that express interest in the program, he said.
Though the list of events isn’t set, the Fruit Tree Tour plans to host workshops at Watsonville Community School and at least one or two other area high schools between March 14 and 20.
Organization members plan to greet Watsonville students March 18 by performing West African agricultural rhythms they term "ecocentric."
"We try to get students culturally connected with environmental issues," Flynn said. "So we’re trying to reach them using West African music and hip-hop."
After the performance, educators lecture on topics such as music history, sustaining functions of fruit trees and localized food systems. Finally, members divide students into three groups — tree planters, drummers and kinesthetic exercise. Through these sections, members hope to teach environmental awareness as well as biodiversity and nutrient cycles.
Flynn likened the project to the legend of Johnny Appleseed.
"One of the trademarks of the organization is its ability to be nomadic," he said. "Traveling up the coast invokes earlier settling times. We view ourselves as pioneers, except attempting to returning to ecological awareness."
Another similarity between Appleseed and the Fruit Tree Tour, in a sense, is the tour’s reliance on vegetable-based fuel.
Like vegetarian Johnny Appleseed, the project’s buses run on biodiesel, a cleaner burning diesel fuel composed of renewable resources, such as soybean oil.
Common Vision piloted the program last year in Watsonville and Aptos. According to Flynn, Common Vision members and students planted 80 trees at Watsonville Community and Renaissance High School.
The tour this year expanded to include stops in San Diego, Long Beach, Laguna Beach, Pomona, Los Angeles, Campbell, Palo Alto, Los Altos, Hayward, Sacramento, Chico, Santa Rosa, Occidental, Ukiah and Willits.
Though funded partially by tax-deductible donations, the majority of funds required for the $35,000 project came from volunteers, Flynn said.
"The Fruit Tree project is an important step to get urban students involved in the issues," Flynn said.