THE DAILY 49ER
by Matt Logan
Transform a concrete jungle into a fruit tree sanctuary with some eclectic drum beats as a catalyst and you've got the Fruit Tree Tour.
There are many places in the cities of America where kids have little to no vegetation and definitely not many fruit trees. The non-profit organization Common Vision was created to help "cultivate ecological awareness and respect for the Earth while generating social and environmental changes towards sustainable lifestyles," as explained in their mission statement.
On March 2, the Fruit Tree Tour was here in Long Beach visiting The New City School. Traveling north into Los Angeles to finish the week they visited Normandie Avenue Elementary School on Friday. During the event they were able to work with students to plant 75 trees and involved approximately 1,600 kids. "The drums make the kids go nuts," said Common Vision volunteer Michael Flynn, "Even teachers where coming out and shaking their booties!"
Flynn has been involved with Common Vision for over a year and says these events serve as "an everyday reminder of our connection with the earth."
Flynn said his favorite part of being a volunteer was when he was planting a tree with students and he could watch "the connection between the soil, student and the tree take place… with their hands in the dirt, it's a magical moment."
To make that magical moment happen the kids have about 20 different trees to choose from, including plum, apple, peach, pear, persimmon, apricot, guava and fig.
The Fruit Tree Tour team travels to each destination in a colorfully painted environmentally friendly bus. The biodiesel engine is powered by vegetable oil. Flynn said they will stop at an In-N-Out (or any place that has a deep fryer) and ask if they can have their old vegetable oil, and that the people are usually very happy to get rid of several gallons of the oil and animal fats.
After a quick and safe chemical treatment, it is ready to power the biodiesel engine.
When the bus rolls up to a school performance, artists pour out dressed in indigenous African mud-cloth fabric spilling melodic thumping drum beats into the air and creating a break from the monotony of a regular inner-city school day. The Fruit Tree Tour volunteers are also educators, as they teach ecological concepts by relating ancient and modern Native American stories and through their performing "ecological hip-hop," which gets the students involved and makes it a personal experience for the kids.
Common Vision often combines their efforts with other non-profit organizations while on the Fruit Tree Tour. In Los Angeles they worked side by side with Community Services Unlimited.
"The kids love the West African beats and earth-conscious hip-hop," said Neelam Sharma, a volunteer at Community Services Unlimited.
The most important element of the project to Sharma is how it engages the youth. Sharma shared an experience where a young boy was planting trees at his elementary school and explained that he would no longer be in elementary school when the trees are grown and are full of fruit but his baby brother would.
"Everyone feels a sense of ownership for their work…by creating landscapes these kids have never really seen," he said. Sharma believes that when the children get involved in their own community and plant the trees themselves it gives them pride in their neighborhood. It is a community-altering transformation "from concrete to greenery," said Sharma.
The volunteers who travel from school to school in their veggie oil-powered caravan appear to be modern day Johnny Appleseeds, but Johnny has got a whole new bag of seeds and a hip-hop drum thumping sound, and it is not just apples anymore.
Maggie Stuphsack helps students to plant an apple tree during a day long planting and drumming workshop with Common Vision Fruit Tree Tour at Normandy Ave Elementary School.