WEST PARIS — One hundred years from now a pear tree planted in the backyard of the Agnes Gray Elementary School might still be bearing fruit for the children of the community.

“This is your tree now,“ Richard Hodges, manager of the ReTreeUS program, said to enthusiastic third-graders and teachers as the the Bartlett pear was planted May 7.

“I think growing fruit trees and your own food is one of the most important things you can do,” Hodges said.

Because of his organization’s wish to promote an environmentally sustainable, socially just food system, coupled with a desire to educate children about the process, Hodges said he was inspired to grow orchards of fruit trees in schools throughout Maine.
 
Nine Maine schools, including the Agnes Gray Elementary School, are receiving  educational orchards with the support from the nonprofit program, ReTreeUS. In total, 168 well-established fruit trees will be planted this month. They include apple, peach, pear and plum.

Hodges has been planting fruit orchards at schools throughout the state for the past five years. Poland Community School in Poland and Dunn Elementary School in New Gloucester are other local recipients.

The first step in the planting process was to design the orchard. Because pear trees grow the tallest, they should be planted in the back of the orchard and peach trees up front because they are small. They must be spaced correctly so that others don’t get too much shade, he said.

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“The design part is really important,” Hodges said. “because this is what your orchard will look like for at least 100 years.”

He told the students that there are many fruit trees in Maine that live longer than 100 years, some apple trees have been found to be 300 years or older.

Students learned how to dig holes for the trees. In order to help the tree take root, compost is essential, as is returning the dug sod to the hole and placing wood chips on top, followed by a good soaking of water, Hodges said.

Once completed, the orchard is expected to add another dimension to the school’s backyard, which has become an outdoor learning center for students.

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Agnes Gray Elementary School student John Winningham struggles to get a bucket full of wood chips into a wagon, as he and classmate Owen Gaul, left, bring it to the site of a newly-planted Bartlett pear tree at the West Paris school. (Leslie H. Dixon/Advertiser Democrat)

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Richard Hodges shows Agnes Gray Elementary students the correct way to dig a hole for a fruit tree in the school’s backyard. (Leslie H. Dixon/Advertiser Democrat)

“This is your tree,” ReTreeUS program manager Richard Hodges tells third-grade students as the first of 12 fruit trees was planted on May 7 in the new fruit orchard at Agnes Gray Elementary School.  (Leslie H. Dixon/Advertiser Democrat)

Nathaniel Barton, a third grade student at the Agnes Gray Elementary School, peers into the hole that was dug to plant the first, of 12 trees in the school’s new fruit orchard. Looking on with Richard Hodges is Jaxsyn Berry and Amelia Bisson.  (Leslie H. Dixon/Advertiser Democrat)

Agnes Gray Elementary School students helped Richard Hodges mix compost into the piles of soil from the hole. Then they secured the mixture over the roots of the tree.  (Leslie H. Dixon/Advertiser Democrat)


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