Cape Cod Community College has a new orchard thanks to the hard work of students, professors and the non-profit ReTreeUs. Student Ethan Hansen spearheaded the effort, which came to fruition on May 3rd when members of the Orchard Club gathered in matching tie-dye t-shirts to plant fruit trees. The orchard came about after a year of hard work, coordinating, and planning. By all accounts it was an uplifting and inspiring day at the 4Cs in West Barnstable!
Hansen organized the orchard as a Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society sustainability project. The “Honors in Action” project received recognition from PTK, coming in third place for their region and first in its category! Hansen, president of PTK, “Wanted this to be something that brought people together, especially in the crazy time that was 2020.”
Along with Professor Keli A. Gates (who will continue as the Orchard Caretaker at the college) and fellow students, Ethan spent hours in the fall of 2020 planning the proposal to the school. After they were approved, they got a grant from PTK to get the ball rolling. They wanted it to be, “Not just a PTK project, or a student project, or just a 4C’s project, but a community project.” There was immediate enthusiasm for everyone who got involved with the project, from advisors, professors, students, and community members!
Ethan reached out to Richard Hodges, his cousin and the Program Manager for ReTreeUs, a Maine-based non-profit that plants orchards at schools. ReTreeUs has been planting orchards since 2012, and has planted over fifty-seven orchards in schools, five at non-profits, and one in a city park. Hodges believes, “School orchards are a great opportunity for students to learn about where their food comes from, fosters stewardship, supports birds and bees, and also produces food for future generations of students.” Trees also produce oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide, and improve soil quality. Once an orchard is productive at a school it can reduce the amount of fruit a school needs to ship in to feed its students, lessening the carbon footprint of the school.
The environmental impact was important to the project at 4Cs. “In the midst of COVID, Climate change is still happening” Hansen noted, “We need to take better care of this planet.” The primary research question of the project was, “In a time of environmental crisis, what is the impact of planting more trees?”
Along with the environmental benefit of the project, community enthusiasm and support were huge components. In a speech following the planting Ethan declared, “People were the heartbeat of the project, so many people made it happen.” In addition to the dedicated Orchard Club students and professors at 4Cs, Agway in Orleans donated a pallet of high-quality compost and Brewster Ace Hardware donated tools that will be used to care for the orchard. Richard Hodges of ReTreeUs also was impressed by the support and enthusiasm from the community.
Those interested in bringing an orchard to their school can learn more on the ReTreeUS website. Each orchard they plant has a caretaker to maintain and sustain the trees. Hodges notes, “Planting is the fun part. Someone has to be there for the long term to prune, water, harvest, and maintain the orchard.” ReTreeUs provides resources and information for caretakers. Those looking for advice can subscribe to their Caretaker Tips and Newsletter.
Though he’s graduating from 4Cs, Hansen is quick to note that this is not the end for the orchard, “It’s the beginning of something” he says, and hopes that the orchard will grow and be used by generations of 4Cs students to come. They also hope the space will be used as an outdoor classroom. The peaches that were planted could produce fruit as soon as next year, while the orchard’s pears and plums will take a bit longer. The Orchard Club will continue the care of the trees, guided by their pillars of sustainability, community and legacy.