Planting orchards at Orchard Gardens Pilot School
By: Jane Hirschi, Executive Director
At the end of July, I was extremely fortunate to be part of a group of people creating an apple orchard at Orchard Gardens Pilot School in Roxbury. Or should I say “re-planting” an orchard because some say that the Orchard Gardens neighborhood was home to one of Boston’s first orchards 400+ years ago. Orchard Gardens may even have been the source of the first Roxbury Russet, the first American apple variety ever.
Along with 10 volunteers from STAG Industrial and a few of my CitySprouts’ peers, we dug holes (hard!) and planted 8 apple trees: Cortland, MacIntosh and Jonathans (but alas, no Roxbury Russets). Why this great effort to start a modern orchard for Orchard Gardens Pilot School? I can tell you the answer to that one. Apples mean a lot to children in New England, no matter what their cultural or historical background. Apples are delicious and nourishing, to start with. They remind us of where we live, our place on this earth. And they connect us to our history of place– that long ago apple orchard that bore fruit in nearly the same spot 400 years ago.
This is why CitySprouts makes apple cider at our 20 partner schools over 6 weeks every fall, with the helping hands of at least 5,000 children. We bring our cider presses to each of our schools and teachers sign up to come out with their students to be part of making cider. Children wash apples, then they cut them, then they feed those pieces into the press. They each take a turn pulling the lever around the press until apple cider starts to trickle– then pour– into the pitcher below. It's a miracle every time. In honor of that miracle, the children join us in raising their cider cup high to toast the earth and the season and the place that made cider. Cheers!
Once again, our volunteers step up to make cider happen in these schools. And teachers build on their students’ cider experience with science lessons on simple machines, they translate the steps to math problems, and invite students to write about the “first, then, last” steps involved in the process. It’s transformative on many levels. It’s just what school should be.
Knowing all of that, planting a new orchard in this schoolyard resonated deeply with me. I am eager to see it grow. And hopeful for the fruit it will bear.