By Anna Mullen, Communications Intern

Photo courtesy of Montezuma School to Farm Project

Happy Arbor Day! In celebration of the trees that help us breathe, we’re spotlighting a project in Colorado where students are embracing farm to school by planting fruit trees. The Montezuma School to Farm Project works with students across the high desert country of Southwest Colorado to plant heritage fruit tree orchards on school grounds that not only bring local fruits into the cafeteria, but are also helping revitalize the region’s unique fruit tree history.

Last fall, students at Cortez Middle School began planting an exact replica of a dying historic orchard in their region with 50 apple trees grafted from nearly 100-year-old stock. After receiving a USDA Farm to School Grant, an additional 25 trees were added to the orchard this spring, including nectarines, peaches, plums, pears, pluots (cross between plum and apricot) and pluerries (cross between plum and cherry). USDA Farm to School Grant funds are also being used to add cane fruits – including raspberries, blackberries, table grapes and strawberries – to the 2+ acres of production space on school grounds.

When finished, the 75-tree orchard will increase annual production to more than 37,500 pounds of heirloom fruit for students to enjoy! And it also serves as a hands-on curriculum tool for the classroom:

  • Science lessons cover the functions of fruit trees, grafting, water conservation and soil health
  • Math skills are learned by mapping out and installing drip irrigations systems
  • Students expand their business and entrepreneurial learning by projecting wholesale and retail sales of fruit at various markets, including their own Youth Farmers Market
  • Navajo language classes use the orchard to teach new vocabulary

Students are also learning local history in the orchard, like how Montezuma County once had a booming apple economy that delivered apples across the country via railroad. Revitalizing that history in schools has been a collaborative project between Montezuma School to Farm Project and the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project (MORP), which works to save dying varieties of heritage fruit trees only grown in the Montezuma Valley region. Along with MORP, students in Montezuma County are a playing key role in the development of local food systems and in rebuilding the historical lineage of heirloom food crops that will feed their community.

Photo courtesy of Montezuma School to Farm Project

On Monday, the National Farm to School Network and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are heading to Washington, D.C., to tell Congress that programs like the Montezuma school heritage orchards are building more resilient communities, connecting the next generation with our agricultural history and providing teachers hands-on learning environments to inspire their students. We’re asking legislators to strengthen the highly successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program by fully incorporating the Farm to School Act of 2015 into the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization package this year.

Show your support by adding your name to our citizen sign-on letter, and check back next week for more farm to school success stories here on our blog!