Madison Students Enjoy First Blooms in New Schoolyard Orchards

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Madison Students Enjoy First Blooms in New Schoolyard Orchards

By Jennica Skoug and Shelly Strom | Photos By Community GroundWorks 0

This spring, Madison-area students at ten schools will have the chance to wander among blossoms as they witness the first full bloom of the dozens of fruit trees they planted a year ago as part of the Schoolyard Orchard Project.

The project—which resulted in the planting of more than 100 fruit and nut trees at area schools and Community GroundWorks’ Troy Kids’ Garden—was made possible by an anonymous donor through the Madison Community Foundation. The foundation selected Madison non-profit Community GroundWorks (CGW) to facilitate the distribution of grant funds, provide training to school “tree captains” and help ensure successful growth of school orchards. The Schoolyard Orchard Project was so successful in its initial year that in 2015, the anonymous donor gave again through the Madison Community Foundation. This spring, CGW will use this funding to help 50 more fruit trees take root in six additional Madison schoolyards. 

In 2015, CGW will also help lower-growing edible perennials find their way to schoolyards as part of an Urban Food Forests Project, with funding from a federal innovation grant. Plantings will include raspberries, currants, quince, rhubarb, grapes and even kiwi vine. (Yes! It grows in Wisconsin!)

Planting trees is no small task, but Madison students didn’t hesitate to burst out of doors last spring to help shovel, water and mulch, often working together in teams to carefully prepare the site for a new tree. At Toki Middle School, the entire sixth grade class – 200 strong – had the opportunity to help plant trees.

As part of the Schoolyard Orchard Project, CGW has partnered with McKay Nursery, whose staff help to provide expertise regarding selection and care of trees, and the nursery supplies trees at a discounted price to help maximize the impact of the funding. Tree varieties are chosen for their hardiness in the face of pests, diseases, and cold temperatures, as well as their reputation for producing an abundant and nutritious harvest. To help ensure the best care for the small orchards, school-designated Tree Captains attend workshops on pruning, planting and aftercare techniques such as mulching, watering and protection from animal damage.

As school orchard dreams were realized, the trees made a big impression. At Prairie Elementary, a fourth grader was overheard saying, “I’m going to remember this forever. I'm going to come here when I'm a grandpa!"

In just a few years, students will literally reap the fruits of their labor in the form of apples, pears, cherries, plums, apricots and other tasty fruits. Harvested fruit will be used in school lunches and snacks and to support neighboring families in need during the summer months. Schools will also use the trees themselves as part of living outdoor classrooms, providing space for lessons on everything from ecology to history, or just a quiet place to sit and read in the shade.

At Lakeview Elementary, trees provide the additional benefit of erosion prevention. “We are calling this our Edible Erosion Prevention Project,” Susie Hobart of Lakeview Elementary said. “The trees will help prevent storm water runoff while also providing years of beauty, a place for families to meet, hands on learning and yummy nutrition for our children.” 

In addition to Lakeview, participating schools include Lincoln Elementary, Muir Elementary, Lapham Elementary, Orchard Ridge Elementary, Prairie Elementary, Hawthorne Elementary, Sandburg Elementary, Alice Elementary, Van Hise Elementary, Crestwood Elementary, Thoreau Elementary, Toki Middle, Spring Harbor Middle, Sherman Middle, Marshall Early Learning Center, and the Grow Academy.  Schools were selected from the pool of past and current recipients of the Growing Outdoor Classrooms Program grant, a project of the GROW Coalition, which also receives funding from the Madison Community Foundation. 

“We really can grow a lot of fruit right here in Wisconsin,” Community GroundWorks Education Director Nathan Larson said. “It’s such a great connection for kids to see it start from a flower, right in their own schoolyard. The excitement they have for picking an apple and eating it on the spot is pretty incredible.” 

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