SANTA MARIA TIMES
by Natalie Ragus
Entertainers from the Common Vision environmental-education group perform Thursday for Taylor Elementary School students during a stop on the group's
Twenty-five “Earth Educators” descended upon Taylor Elementary School Thursday in their veggie-oil-powered caravan to help students plant fruit trees and dance to the “eco-beat.”
The “Earth educators” were from environmental education group Common Vision, and their visit to the Santa Maria school was a stop along the way in the group's annual Fruit Tree Tour, a 20-city tour to plant more than 1,000 fruit trees on urban campuses, while teaching children about sustainable ecology.
The program - which coincides with this week's Arbor Day celebration - includes West African agricultural drumming and Earth-conscious hip-hop.
“We wanted to tie the importance of our agricultural heritage here in the Santa Maria Valley ... and it's exciting for kids to grow things and harvest them. It teaches them patience,” teacher Sally Woelper said.
In addition to her regular teaching duties at Taylor, Woelper is the faculty advisor for the school's Garden Club, and was instrumental in bringing Common Vision to the school.
The visit was made possible with a garden grant from the state and other funds, Woelper said.
El Camino Junior High also received money from the garden grant, but chose to use the funds to buy sorely needed equipment for its Garden Club.
The three-month-long Fruit Tree Tour covers urban areas in California from San Francisco and Sacramento to Los Angeles.
During each stop, the “Earth Educators” plant 20 fruit trees of assorted variety, such as peach, apple, pear, and even persimmon.
The educators also double as performance artists, and put on a lively 45-minute show for students based on farming traditions around the globe.
Planting rhythms, harvest dances and “eco hip-hop” punctuate the storyline.
“We hope the students have an opportunity to connect with their school yard as the environment, as a place where they can make a change, make a difference in some of the global and environment issues that they're learning about,” Michael Flynn of Common Vision said of the program's purpose.
Most students in urban settings have very little exposure to the environment, and as few as 5 percent have ever even been in a nature setting, he added.
On Thursday, Common Vision's opening performance began with two “Earth Educators” playing the roles of children who travel the world on a journey to find out more about where their food comes from.
By the end of the performance, Taylor students were waving their hands in the air to a heavy drum beat, and singing along with the group's performance artists.
“Can we plant things?” the performance artists sang out.
“Yes we can,” the students answered back.
After the show, students broke into groups.
Some learned the art of “eco hip-hop,” while others began the formidable task of planting the 20 fruit trees.
A small group of students crowded around a hole that was primed to receive the nectarine tree they were preparing to plant.
As they carefully eased the tree down into hole, and covered the roots with dirt, fifth-grader Davis Heaton reflected on the amount of work required to plant and grow a fruit tree.
“It's not really easy,” he said. “You can't just put seeds in the ground and water them.”
For fellow fifth-grader Emily Perez, planting fruit was nothing new.
“(My family) has a lot of lemon and orange trees ... Before I moved, I planted a strawberry plant,” she said, adding that it was important for people to be environmentally aware.
“You need to take care of the environment so that everybody can live healthier lives,” Emily said.