By Lindsay Hanks
It starts with a seed. And that one seed will make a difference. (A tree. A child.) Cultivate the seed carefully, and you will see the fruit of your labor. (Change.)
That’s Common Vision’s philosophy.
Whether on the stage or in the field, the nonprofit organization’s Fruit Tree Tour theater troupe raises community awareness for local eating and sustainable living.
“Common Vision’s goal is to inspire diverse people into taking care of the planet,” says Michael Flynn, director of education and program development, adding that the organization tries to creatively engage people in its message. “Planting trees is empowering, it’s fun, and it’s community building. It helps us understand the reciprocity in our lives and our communities.”
Since 2004, the Fruit Tree Tour group has taken its message of sustainable living to the streets, visiting about 40 low-income schools across California each year. They teach children environmental stewardship and to plant fruit trees in the schoolyards, which provide nutrition to schools that lack healthful lunch programs.
From the moment the troupe arrives on campus, a full-day school takeover is jam-packed with informative conservation assemblies, lively arts performances and interactive farming clinics. The aim is simple: Sow environmental interest in children while they’re young, and reap a harvest of change to come.
At each school, the Fruit Tree Tour theatre troupe plants an orchard of 15 to 20 trees to provide fruit year-round. Kids can eat everything from plums in the spring to pomegranates in the fall to citrus fruits in the winter.
From its inception, the Fruit Tree Tour has been well-received.
“Every year, 20 to 50 schools go through the application process,” Flynn says. “The teachers and administrators are always impressed by how organized we are and how well we take charge of the school for the whole day. We have workshops and assemblies with the kids and orchard-care workshops for the administration to learn how to care for the trees after we’re gone.”
The whole endeavor is sustainable. Each tour season, 18 to 25 volunteer farmers and performers board bamboo-furnished, vegetable-oil-powered busses to conduct the day-long programs. They even use handmade instruments and puppeteer costumes on a solar-powered stage.
“Finding tour members is pretty competitive. We always get about four times more volunteers than we can take,” Flynn says. “We work actively to create diverse crews to introduce to the kids—racially and in the skills they bring to the group. Some crew members have farming backgrounds; some are performing artists and some just want to educate others.”
The skills that a group of volunteers has to offer will determine the arts offerings for each particular tour. Past workshops range from West African agricultural drumming and ecologically themed hip-hop music. Throughout the program, each troupe member focuses on a different aspect of environmental awareness, such as decreasing global warming, reducing your carbon footprint and eating locally grown food.
“The kids feel inspired to be the ones who are going to make this change in the world for themselves, their friends, their families and all of the people who haven’t even been born yet. It gives them a sense of being part of something larger,” Flynn says.
On a personal level, Flynn loves the sense of collaboration he gets working with the high school students.
“The high schoolers can turn around and work with the younger children in their schools and within the rest of their communities,” he says. “The effect they can all have is powerful and inspirational.”
In the first six years of operation, the Fruit Tree Tour visited about 45,000 students in more than 150 schools and communities. They planted more than 3,500 fruit trees. Learn more about how to volunteer with the Fruit Tree Tour or invite them into your community.
About the Author: Lindsay Hanks is a consumer and business magazine editor and writer. Her passion for sustainable living stems from an environmental stewardship course she took in college, and she believes no contribution is too small in impacting the world for change