Newly-planted Learning Garden orchard to educate and nourish

by: David F. Ashton, Katherine Drotos (far right) helps kids learn about some of the trees planted at the Learning Garden.

Although groups like Friends of Trees help neighbors plant trees along rights-of-way and in yards throughout the city, no one with whom we've spoken can remember the last time an 80-tree orchard was established in Southeast Portland.

'Over the weekend, we've planted eighty fruitful trees and shrubs,' exclaimed Cem Akin, Director of the non-profit Fruit Tree Planting Foundation.

Folks from the foundation didn't plant all of these trees - two remained in buckets, as about thirty 7th graders arrived at the site.

'Today's activity will help bond the students with the orchard,' Katherine Drotos, an educator with the foundation, told us. 'When they actually plant trees, and then tend them, they feel more personally connected to the trees.'

Before they planted those two trees, the class toured the orchard. Stopping at each variety of the newly-planted trees, a student read a 'hint card' with clues to the identity of that tree or fruit-bearing bush, before the kids guessed what it was.

Then, educators asked the students to list reasons why it's a good idea to plant and care for trees. Their responses: Shelter for animals; creating oxygen; providing food; and being a naturally-renewable raw material for pulp products.

As they started planting, Drotos revealed, 'We chose the Learning Garden, here on S.E. 60th Avenue, because it is a wonderful site that serves many area schools. It meets the criteria of our organization: To donate a fruit tree orchard that serves students from a wide geographic area, by providing improved nutrition - and educational opportunities to learn about sustainability and the environment.'

It wasn't all work. After the tree planting, a foundation educator taught the kids about the benefits of fruit in their diet. Both the natural and the prepared fruit snacks were gobbled up by the kids.

'I learned what a lot of trees are today,' Andrew Nguyen told us. 'By looking at them, I can now figure out what kind of tree it is. It is good to learn about nature.'

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