WINDSOR — Students at Windsor Elementary School left their mark in the soil Thursday as the entire school helped plant a dozen fruit trees in the schoolyard.

Richard Hodges, the founder and project manager of ReTreeUS, was on hand to help the students plant the fruit trees — two European pear trees, two Asian pear trees, three peach trees and four apple trees.

Each grade level was allowed to plant a tree in half-hour increments throughout the day.

With his co-project manager, Shelley Kruzewski, Hodges demonstrated the correct way to dig a hole, explained the process of planting a tree and spoke of the legacy the students will leave through their hard work.

“When you’re older, you can come back and say that you were ‘a pretty big deal,'” Hodges said, then asking students if they had younger siblings who might one day eat fruit from the newly planted trees.

Hodges said when the sixth graders who planted trees earlier in the day come back as seniors in high school, the trees should be bearing fruit that is ready to eat.


Hodges said ReTreeUS, which promotes an environmentally sustainable, socially just food system through education, practical resources and mentoring, mostly focuses on fruit trees because they are in harvest and on schedule with the school year.

Hodge also explained that fruit trees are usually maintained in the spring and harvested in the fall. The sapling-size trees planted Thursday are expected to take four to five years to fully mature and bear fruit.

“I think my mom and baby brother will come here,” a student shouted in response to Hodge’s explanation.

While Windsor Elementary School’s decision to plant an orchard is unique, Hodge said ReTreeUS has planted about 80 orchards across Maine since the nonprofit’s inception about 10 years ago. In a given season (September to October), Hodges and Kruzewski plant about 15 orchards, and within the next year, they plan to have 100 orchards across the state.

Schools that apply for an orchard, as Windsor Elementary School did a couple of years ago, are expected to contribute about a quarter of the cost, which ends up being about $500, Hodges said. In return, schools receive generations of fruit and are able to give back to the environment.


The rest of the cost is raised through fundraisers, grants and donations.

Regional School Unit 12, which includes Windsor Elementary School, is known for incorporating its garden-grown produce into school lunches, and for using its gardens and greenhouses in certain lessons for students.

Soil is placed Thursday around a newly planted pear tree at Windsor Elementary School. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Windsor Elementary School officials learned last spring the school had been selected to receive an orchard.

On Thursday, Cory King, a student support specialist at the school, helped guide students during the planting process. He said getting to the point they could plant the trees was a lengthy process.

King helped Principal Heather Wilson apply for the orchard and heard about the program from former FoodCorps member Maggie Blumenthal, who was stationed at the school last year.

FoodCorps is a nonprofit organization that works with communities to connect children with healthy food at school.


“ReTreeUS got in touch with us last spring and they came in late May (or) early June to look at the spots we picked,” King said. “They gave us the compost, we put cardboard down (to prepare the planting area) and the finishing touch is planting the trees.”

King and Ari Drouin, a school nurse, volunteered to oversee planting of the school’s orchard. King said he has a history with orchards from when he was a child in Pennsylvania.

Wilson and King said they enjoyed seeing students get excited about planting trees.

Richard Hodges, the founder and project manager of ReTreeUS, explains to students Thursday where two pear trees were grafted together while the tree is planted at Windsor Elementary School. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

During planting, friends Bridget Feyler, Makayla Beaudry and Elizabeth Blais worked together to fill a hole with soil after a tree was placed into the hole. The called the experience “really fun.”

Beaudry said the best part was “being interactive and doing something with friends.” Blais agreed, saying planting the tree was more fun than planting the garden last spring.

At the end of the planting process, Hodges told the fourth graders they could name the tree. The students came up with the name “Jimmy,” although some said they preferred “Bobby.”

When the fourth graders were done, the next group of students came out to plant another tree.

Before the students left for the day, Hodges told them, “What you did was really good for the planet and the community.”

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