Orchard at Saccarappa School could come to fruition

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WESTBROOK — The Saccarappa School construction project was aimed at expanding and updating the school and providing students with a dedicated cafeteria, gymnasium and a new playground. One thing the plans didn’t include was a fruit orchard, but that could change.

School officials are working with ReTreeUS to possibly plant apple, peach, plum and pear trees on the school grounds this upcoming school year. ReTreeUS creates educational programming at school orchards to inspire students and their families to create orchards and gardens at home. The Durham-based organization planted its first orchard in 2012 and since then has planted more than 30 in school districts across the state.

The Saccarappa opportunity came to light during a chance encounter at City Hall in June, when Principal Brian Mazjanis ran into the organizers of The River Bank Summer Series, a music and arts festival hosted by Green Wave Studios. Green Wave Studios planned to raise money at the festival to put a ReTreeUS orchard in Riverbank Park.

“But Riverbank Park has a lot of trees already. I said we were in the middle of a school construction project and that we might have the room for an orchard,” said Mazjanis, who worked with kindergarten teacher Guyla Woodbrey, who co-manages the school garden, to begin discussions of bringing the orchard to Saccarappa.

So the River Bank Park Summer Series raised money for a Saccarappa orchard instead.

Held July 21, the festival featured several Maine bands, including Stefan Pierce, The Shank Painters, Getmo’, Papa Tim and the Desperate Man’s Blues Explosion, and The McCormick Experience, as well as items from Maine artists and businesses, live circus performances and food from Blazes Burgers.

“I wanted to bring people together, our goal was to create an event that could benefit both sides,” organizer Rachel Higley said. “Through vendors and sponsors, we were raising money for the school.”

Richard Hodges, founder of ReTreeUS said the fundraising and plans for the orchard are continuing. Typically an orchard the size that is envisioned at Saccarappa costs between $2,000 and $4,000. Higley said about $500 has been raised so far, with additional fundraising planned.

“Some of the details of the schedule of the planting haven’t been finalized yet,” Hodges said. “The initial plan was to get it started in May 2019, but there is an option for us to start in October.”

The October planting date, he said, is contingent on getting the School Committee to approve the plan. Superintendent Peter Lancia said it is unlikely the approval would happen in time for October planting.

“It’s far from approved. It would have to go through the design process and go to the School Committee for approval. It’s in the suggestion phase. Nothing is set in stone by far,” he said.

Before an orchard can be sited, Lancia said, the school construction building committee has to approve the placement of the new playground.

Hodges said the ReTreeUS orchards vary based on the amount of space available, but typically include 10 to 20 apple, peach, plum and pear trees. Educational signage is also provided.

“The intention is to create a foundation for a food forest and the hope is that it is going to be built upon and (the school) will add things over time,” Hodges said.

It typically takes apple or pear trees four to five years to bear fruit, but peach trees can bear fruit in only a couple years.

Hodges said he is working on developing a curriculum “that will align to the Maine Learning Standards and that will enable teachers to use the orchard as an outdoor classroom.”

Saccarappa’s orchard would be one of the first orchards ReTreeUS has brought to the greater Portland area. An orchard was planted at Manchester School in Windham last year and Hodges has also worked on the Mount Joy Orchard project by the East End School in Portland.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x 125 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or on Twitter @mkelleynews.

Rachel Higley showcases some aerial circus tricks Saturday, July 21, during Green Wave Studio’s River Bank Park Summer Series, a event that raised funds for a fruit orchard at Saccarappa School.

The McCormick Experience was one of the five bands that took part in the River Bank Summer Series, a music and arts festival that took place last month in Riverbank Park.

Students from Manchester School in Windham get their hands dirty planting an orchard at their school through Durham-based ReTreeUS. An orchard is in the works to be planted at Saccarappa School.

The school orchards that ReTreeUS has been planting over the last few years, such as this one in Durham, typically include 10 to 15 apple, pear or peach trees.

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