Watching Food Grow: a small organic apple orchard at a rural elementary school

2014 Annual Report for YENC14-076

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2014: $1,934.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Manager:
Dr. Perry Kirkham
Wea Creek Orchard
Project Co-Managers:
Mike Pinto
James A Cole Elementary

Watching Food Grow: a small organic apple orchard at a rural elementary school


2014 actions


Spring and summer – 2014

Upon notification of the receipt of award in April of 2014, we revised our plans to accomplish the goals of this project. Mid-April is too late in the spring to select, order, and plant grafted trees, so we opted to delay the tree planting process until the spring of 2015. We then moved up our preparatory professional development for the Cole faculty so that they could prepare their students adequately for the data gathering that would start at tree planting. We first met with our partners at Wea Creek Orchard in early May of 2014 to develop a timeline and to learn some basic knowledge about care of apple trees. This first meeting was followed by the planting of a single tree donated by Wea Creek Orchard as a demonstration of what was to follow in the spring of 2015. A second meeting occurred in the early fall of 2014 to regroup, revisit plans for professional development, brainstorm about potential lesson plans in the context of Indiana state academic grade standards, and to discuss project evaluation tools.

Winter and spring – 2014/15

On the mornings of December 9 and 10, 2014 and January 5, 2015 three orchard experts (including two with extensive school teaching experience) met with the complete Cole faculty to begin creating lesson plans in the overall curriculum outlined by the SARE grant. Those lesson plans are made available in this report and will be made available to any who request them.

12 trees (2 each of 6 disease resistant varieties) were planted the morning of April 15, 2015. Each pair of trees was planted with help by the students in the relevant grade (two classes in each grade, each grade assigned one pair of tree: 6 grades with 6 different varieties). Pictures taken during this planting event are included as attachments to this report. At this time the students from each grade performed whatever baseline measurement or observation had been assigned by their teachers. We then met again with the 5th grade classes on May 20 to assess their trees’ growth, make follow-up measurements and observations, and to discuss summer maintenance and care for the trees. The students, teachers and orchardists discussed the observations made at the time of planting for each of the tree pairs, compared the relative changes of each pair in the preceding 5 weeks of growth, and predicted what changes would be observed when the students come back to class in the autumn.

Information about this tree-planting project was presented during a family night at Cole elementary, using a poster and pictures to describe the goals and the varieties to be planted. Subsequent to this event, the Tippecanoe County School Board heard a preliminary report of the planning for this project, then again once the trees were planted. During this entire time frame information and pictures have been posted on the Facebook sites of James Cole Elementary and of Wea Creek Orchard.

WORK PLAN 2015/2016
During the summer of 2015 we will maintain things as they are currently, as the students will not return to class until August. Volunteers from the community as well as from Wea Creek Orchard will ensure adequate watering and health of the trees during the summer break.

When classes resume in the late summer, experts from Wea Creek Orchard will meet with Cole faculty to reassess measurements and observations outlined in previous meetings. Among other organic apple farming issues to be discussed will be issues of pest and disease damage and prevention, tree irrigation, differential maintenance during fruit harvesting season, setting of terminal buds and weather-related impacts on trees, leaves and fruit.

When the trees begin to show signs of spring awakening, Cole administrators will organize a parent/community night to allow the students to present their new knowledge of organic apple growing.

We will contact the local news affiliate (WLFI) and local newspaper (Lafayette Journal and Courier) to arrange for coverage of the project and the process of teaching elementary students about growing trees in their own space. In addition, contact will be made with experts on local foods form Purdue extension with the goal of developing some relevant extension publications. The organizers of the annual Indiana Horticultural Congress (held in January each year) will also be solicited for the opportunity to present this project during the local foods track.

Evaluations (pre- and post-tests administered in the classrooms) will be assessed for effectiveness at each grade level and for each lesson. Though time may not permit revision and reporting of the lesson plans during this grant cycle, the lessons will be iteratively modified over time and made available on the Wea Creek Orchard website and to NCR-SARE.