Volunteers Plant Saplings at School

24 fruit trees at Mountain Elem. will provide food
by Kelley Atherton, Del Norte Triplicate

Deborah Kravitz, left, the program coordinator for the Network for a Health California in local schools, and Sara Haug, a First 5 Service Corps VISTA, fill in dirt around a tree sapling. Del Norte Triplicate/Kelley Atherton

Deborah Kravitz, left, the program coordinator for the Network for a Health California in local schools, and Sara Haug, a First 5 Service Corps VISTA, fill in dirt around a tree sapling. Del Norte Triplicate/Kelley Atherton

About 40 local residents worked together Saturday to dig soil and rocks out of the ground and plant a crop of fruit trees for Mountain Elementary School in Gasquet.

In about two hours, 24 apple, pear, plum, peach and cherry trees were planted, creating an orchard for the K-5 school. In a few years the trees will provide fruit for the school and the Gasquet community.

The trees were purchased with a $500 grant from Jamba Juice that First 5 Del Norte applied for to use for Mountain School, said Connor Caldwell, a First 5 Service Corps VISTA who is a development coordinator for the Community Assistance Network (CAN).

The parent-teacher organization wanted a garden at the school and as funding was being collected, the Jamba Juice grant was discovered, said Michael Waddle, a First 5 Service Corps VISTA who is a community coordinator for CAN. Waddle and Patti Vernelson, the executive director of First 5 Del Norte, wrote the grant to develop an orchard alongside a garden at the school.

First 5 was one of 20 organizations out of 500 applicants selected to receive the grant, Waddle said.

The grant paid for the trees from Miller Farms Nursery in McKinleyville, but volunteer labor was needed to put them in the ground — about 30 adults and 10 children showed up to help.

After the trees were planted, the volunteers were treated to lunch — this was a chance to talk about the future of Mountain School.

Vernelson told the crowd that there will be a community meeting Feb. 7 at the school to talk about how to better utilize the facility.

One concern is how to get more students enrolled in the school (there are currently less than 20 K-5 students), such as re-instating the sixth, seventh and eighth grades, she said.

Another issue is  allowing the community to use the gym on the weekends and renovating the kitchen so food could be prepared there for events, Vernelson said. After a fire a number of years ago, the school was re-built using joint-use funds from the state with the intention of it also being used for the community, she said.

The garden includes 15 raised beds installed last year for Gasquet residents to plant food for themselves this spring, in addition to school usage.