An Orchard Grows at Red Cloud

posted on May 30, 2013

On a bright spring morning, a group of Red Cloud students walked out of their high school building and into a wide field on the north side of the school’s campus. They gathered in small groups and worked the ground with shovels and rakes—and one by one, planted 32 bare-root apple, pear and other fruit trees by hand. With the help of the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation, an award-winning international nonprofit dedicated to planting edible, fruitful trees and plants to benefit the environment and strengthen communities, they established an orchard that will provide needed fresh fruit to the school community.

“It will be nice to come back and see how the trees have grown years from now,” said one student as she put the final touches on a water catchment basin around a small apple tree.

Working side by side with Red Cloud students, Fruit Tree Planting Foundation Chief Arborist Rico Montenegro demonstrated how to care for the infant trees.  He shared that planting new orchards not only produces fresh, healthy food, it also strengthens connections to the land.

“The whole concept of stewardship is really critical.  I want the students to feel a vested interest in the world around them,” said Montenegro, an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist who has worked with fruit trees for nearly four decades. “The best part for me is working with communities who want to make a difference in the world, and want to make a commitment to care for the trees into the future.”

~ View More Pictures from the Tree Planting! ~

Montenegro explained that it will take a number of years before the trees are able to successfully produce fruit as they establish their root systems and grow enough to support the weight of their own fruits.  But he made sure the students participating understood the impact their work will have in the future.

“I want to thank you,” he said.  “You made a difference for the school and for students in years to come.”

For Red Cloud Executive Vice President Robert Brave Heart, the orchard represents a critical new resource for the school and the broader community. “Where we’re located on Pine Ridge Reservation, it is extremely difficult—and extremely expensive—to get access to fresh fruit.  We are truly in a food desert in many ways,” he said. “Growing our own fresh fruit on our own campus means we will be able to care for our students and our community in a new way. We’re so grateful to the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation for making this orchard possible.”

Red Cloud students found the planting inspiring, and Montenegro encouraged them to consider future possibilities in agriculture, ecology and farming. “When you get older and start thinking about your options, there are a number of opportunities out there than you might want to consider as a career.”

The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation’s primary mission is to plant and help others plant a collective total of 18 billion fruit trees across the world—approximately three for every person alive—and encourage their growth under organic standards. The Foundation focuses on creating sustainable orchards where the harvest will best serve communities for generations, at places such as public schools, city parks, low-income neighborhoods, and Native American reservations.

Earth Tipi, a local, reservation-based nonprofit which supports sustainable community development, helped to organize the planting event at Red Cloud and nearby schools and community organizations.

Photos: All Rights Reserved ©Red Cloud Indian School