Etna fourth graders plant tree orchard at school garden

Published: Sep. 26, 2023 at 5:53 PM EDT
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ETNA, Maine (WABI) - Local elementary schoolers are getting out of the classroom and into the dirt!

“Today we’re going to be planting 12 fruit trees - four apple, four pear, and four peach trees with the fourth grade here at Etna-Dixmont,” explains Richard Hodges, Program Manager and Founder of ReTreeUS.

The nonprofit travels to different schools to plant orchards and educate students about the environment and growing your own food.

Alongside ReTreeUS, FoodCorps and Newport Glass assisted in this endeavor. The orchard will add to the pre-existing garden the school already has that grows vegetables, beans, and pollinator flowers for bees.

While the students may be outside the classroom, that doesn’t mean the learning stops there.

“I think this can span every subject. I think in the garden you can learn about English, you can learn history, science especially, it’s really all encompassing,” comments the school’s Garden Coordinator Maggie Blumenthal. “So, I think it’s really important for schools, especially elementary schools, to have it.”

Stephanie Farnham is a fourth-grade teacher at the school, and she says what the students learn in the garden transcends what the classroom provides.

“Being able to know how to plant and harvest and just real-life skills in general is huge for these kids. To be able to get outside as well is really, really nice for them,” Farnham said.

Fourth graders Lily, 9, and Camden, 9, were involved in the tree planting.

They told me they have been involved in the garden since they were 4 years old in preschool. When TV5 asked if they enjoyed their time learning in the garden, they said: “Yes! Because usually we’re like writing or reading, and we get to come out here and do really fun things.”

Beyond what the kids learn from the present, taking part in planting the orchard teaches them the importance of preserving the future.

“They’ve said it’s really fun to have a different environment than inside in the classroom, sitting down,” says Farnham. “To be able to be out and planning what we’re going to grow for the following year and what kind of foods they want to eat for snacks or for lunches. It’s really cool for them to be able to have that input.”

“Just think it’s so important for kids to get outside and in the soil, and fruit trees are great because they live a really long time. And it’s a legacy and so it gets kids thinking about the future and providing fruit for generations of students,” Hodges says about the long-lasting lessons tree-planting provides students.