UKIAH DAILY JOURNAL
by Carole Brodsky
So goes the motto of Common Vision, the Emmy Award-winning creators of the Fruit Tree Tour. The group began their seventh annual statewide tree-planting event in Mendocino County this week.
With rooftop solar arrays and hand-painted murals, Common Vision's bio-powered buses and trucks carried 15 modern day Johnny Appleseeds to four schools and two community centers in Mendocino County. Two hundred fruit trees were planted by students and community members.
Miles Gordon, director of the NCO Gardens Project and member of Ukiah ReLeaf, says the tour is a perfect fit for schools, local food groups and community organizations.
"We all have the common vision - to repopulate urban forests, engage our youth and teach the community about food accessibility," notes Gordon. "This is the natural next step in developing school gardens and local food systems."
Tree plantings were held at Covelo High School and the Round Valley Indian Health Center. Following a benefit concert at the Philo Grange, the group worked with the Noyo Food Forest planting fruit trees at Fort Bragg High School's Learning Garden. The Willits Integrated Service Center had trees planted with support from the Mendocino Environmental Learning Project. On Tuesday, the Common Vision team assisted high school students attending MCOE's Alternative Education Program with the planting of 14 fruit trees surrounding their Youth Enterprise Garden.
ReLeaf member Gregg Young and Gordon determined which trees would be suitable for the sites.
"We focused on dwarf trees to start small and make sure we can maintain them," explains Gordon.
Common Vision founder Blair Phillips says the tour stemmed from his desire to create an educational model that had not been available to him.
"We started out eight years ago, touring farms and sites that were physical models of sustainability," says Phillips. They created a mobile permaculture design course for college students. "In order to receive certification and credits, students had to transfer their knowledge to at-risk high school kids by creating a garden at their school," explains Phillips. From that model, the Fruit Tree Tour blossomed.
Beginning in February of 2010, the Fruit Tree Tour will visit schools throughout the state. Three veggie-oil powered buses, a refrigerated truck storing dormant fruit trees, a truck for hauling soil, a fuel truck and runner vehicles will carry 25 to 30 volunteers to primarily inner-city, at-risk schools, where kids will have hands-on experience planting trees.
"In our chaotic and confusing world, planting trees with youth is a reminder of the simplicity of life and a positive action toward making a difference," notes Phillips.
At MCOE on Old River Road, students broke into small groups led by a Common Vision tree planter. While students dug holes and prepared the ground for planting, the volunteers educated kids on the importance of having a part in producing one's own food.
Each tree was carefully planted. Volunteers explained the purpose of mixing native soil with compost and oyster shell, demonstrated techniques and allowed students to work on their own.
One student said, "If we use oyster shell are we putting mercury into the ground?" Another asked, "Why wouldn't the tree's roots fill up an air pocket if we didn't tamp the soil?
Stakes were driven into the ground. Students were asked to determine the wind direction in order to properly position the stakes. Most had little or no prior gardening experience, aside from what they had learned in their Youth Enterprise Garden.
For tenth grade student Kelsey Pierce, the tree planting was a first.
"It was a lot of fun but it smelled kind of bad," smiled Pierce. "It was interesting. I'd never done anything like this until I came to this school." Pierce now helps her boyfriend with his garden. "I can definitely imagine gardening in my future."
"Our hope is that students will have a better appreciation for working together, and that they will see their actions do have consequences. Gardens get people together, and local food equals community growth," says tree-planter Chris Masterson of Hopland.
According to spokeswoman Megan Watson, the Fruit Tree Tour has impacted 45,000 students. Nearly 4,000 trees have been planted at 150 schools, many in low-income communities.
Gordon is hoping to procure a rainwater catchment system to water the trees.
"The North Coast Resource Conservation and Development Council has been very supportive," says Gordon, noting that MCOE's Peter Costas and the staff have taken to heart the interrelated concepts of water, construction, and food, offering students marketable skills and community interaction.
Meanwhile, the Gardens Project continues to flourish. Gordon has two Americorps VISTA staff who organize volunteers and solidify individual gardens.
"We're putting in winter gardens with the help of Master Gardeners and completing our infrastructure on other gardens," he said. "Our goal is to create as many model gardens and experiences as we can, so people can view them, see how they work and talk to the people who are caring for them," Gordon explains.
"By teaching children how to plant, care for, and eat from the fruit trees growing at our public schools, we are empowering the next generation with the tools, appreciation and pride of growing food," notes Gordon.