Building friendship by planting fruit trees at school

Calling seven fruit trees recently planted in front of North Albany Middle School the Friendship Orchard might be a bit aspirational. And not just because seven trees do not exactly suggest the word orchard. But also because only time will tell if last month’s planting by sixth graders at the school will lead to the kind of loving relationship that the Friendship Garden, from which the “orchard’s” name is taken, has with its surrounding community. But that is our hope, or shall we say aspiration, at the Vegetable Project. Knowing what a special place the Friendship Garden, across Hurlbut Street from Albany’s Delaware Community School, is, we will do what we can to nurture friendship around five apple trees, two pear trees and five flowering perennials now in the soil and hopefully more that will follow.

But why do we care? A pair of Times Union articles paints a picture of great difficulty at North Albany Middle School last year, difficulty that just seemed to cry out for the kind of healing that putting plants into soil can help with. With great belief in the power of exposure to nature, lending a hand felt like the right thing for a school garden group to do. What we came up with was a daylong celebration of hands-on plant-related doing and touching and tasting and experiencing at the school, revolving around planting fruit trees for about 150 students in sixth grade.

In addition to planting trees and perennials, students made seed bombs with seeds taken from a host of nearby perennials, started pea shoot seeds, measured soil pH and painted signs identifying the trees and perennials that were planted. And most of all, students were outside, busy and engaged.

Visitors to the Friendship Garden can feel instantly that it is a special place, a safe place, really a sanctuary of peace and love shaped over more than 20 years by Susan Fowler, a long-time teacher, now retired, at the nearby elementary school. But shouldn’t North Albany Middle School have such a special place as well? Where trees and other plants contribute to a sense of wellbeing? Where nearly 200 feet of building frontage offer many more planting opportunities in the weeks and years ahead?

That is our hope, or our aspiration.

Next up, hopefully in the next couple of weeks, will be planting flower bulbs with seventh graders.

–Bill Stoneman

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