I help elementary schools plant their own apple orchards. As part of the deal I will arrange for the water supply, irrigation valve, and timer. Sometimes schools will receive gardening grants for the drip irrigation supplies, which I help them design and install. Finally, I supply the benchgraft trees; after that, they’re on their own.
Sometimes when I hand them the bundle of tiny trees, the coordinating teacher assumes I’m going to plant them also, and are a little flummoxed when I tell them its their baby from here on out. They will try to coordinate some parents to help, but the trees need to be planted right away, and more often than not they recruit the kids to do the planting.
Several wonderful things happen at this point; the kids get the trees planted, the teachers are surprised on how well they did, I keep my sanity from not over-committing myself, and the kids take ownership of the orchard.
When the orchard in the above photo first went in two years ago, the head custodian gave it about a month before he expected the drip hose to be stolen and the trees vandalized. Two years later it hasn’t been touched, and I credit that for the kids taking ownership. They have their labor involved weeding, staking, and noting the tree’s growth, and the orchard is no longer just an object at the school, but its THEIR orchard. As they grow up they can bring their kids back there someday and say “I remember planting those trees and watching them grow”.
We cover the orchard with a thick layer of shredder chips to feed the trees, conserve water, and keep the weeds down. We get them free from an arborist, and sometimes can’t be too picky of when a load will show up. Last week they dumped a load at a school, but it is the end of the year and all the parent volunteers are gone. It was a huge pile, and the district’s Bobcat tractor was booked up. So instead the entire 6th grade got involved and moved the chips. They got hot, dirty, and stinky; in other words it was a way cool day! No doubt some parents will be horrified of this, but nothing could be better for them. They were a part of something that will be beautiful and productive, and may outlive them.
At another school a beautiful garden full of flowers and shrubs was planted out front. Again, folks gave it a season before they expected it to fall into a dying, weedy mess from neglect. But the after-school program has the kids going out there daily, weeding and watering, and three years later, it is gorgeous (I snuck a couple of apple trees in there also). The principal has received critical comments from visiting administrators about the kids doing work out there, but ask any kid and they’ll tell you they love it. I admire their work every time I drive by.
As you can see I’m all for child labor, because they get to see the fruit of their labor, and nobody has to tell them to feel good about themselves; they already do. They learn a valuable life lesson as see the value of hard work and realize that when you see an ugly problem, it can be dealt with in surprisingly little time, especially if they work together. And the garden or orchard is kept up much better then if someone just gave it to them already complete. It is all part of taking ownership.