At Vieja Valley Elementary School, children are learning that sometimes the best things in life do grow on trees. On March 21, teachers Lynn Seigel-Boettner and Tim Parker and their classes of 2nd-, 5th-, and 6th-graders tore open the earth, removed sod and several ornamentals, and planted eight fruit trees to enhance the school’s already brilliant garden. Seigel-Boettner said fruit trees serve as a natural conduit to teaching children the significance of seasons in food.
“It’s important that kids have a connection to where their food comes from,” she said. “The trees are right outside the library window, and they’ll be able to watch them grow and change and see different trees bear at different times.”
The trees-planted on the first day of spring-include a persimmon, two cherries, two apples, a nectaplum, an apripum, and an apricot. Citrus trees are on the way. The varieties were carefully selected for their fruit-bearing schedule, as these “summer fruits” will produce during the school year. The job of readying the soil and planting the trees was valuable to all involved, says Seigel-Boettner, but the younger children will develop a tighter, longer-lasting relationship with the small orchard, since they will observe the trees as they grow, mature, and produce successively greater crop loads.
Already Vieja Valley boasts an octagonal “pizza garden,” where all the toppings for a colorful vegan pizza grow. In years past, children have harvested wheat, ground the grain, and made their own dough. Edible gardens, says Seigel-Boettner, are vastly more engaging than ornamentals.
“For kids, it’s just so much more exciting to be able to walk into a garden and eat food out of it,” she said.
And while vegetable gardens are great, fruit trees are even better, said Seigel-Boettner. They must be waited for, and they teach patience while involving people in the natural cycles of the Earth. Her vegetable garden may someday wilt, but an orchard can survive a season or two of neglect, so at Vieja Valley, children will discover for years to come different ways to be involved with nature.