Monday, February 6, 2012

Gasquet Community Orchard

There are new and exciting things happening in Gasquet.  With talk of expanding Mountain School's kitchen, opening the school gym as a community center, and a new community garden growing, Gasquet is gearing up and showing support for positive community work and progress.  On January 28th there was a big step in the right direction when some 35 Gasquet residents and volunteers came out to plant a fruit orchard at Mountain School.
The orchard is one part of a continuing effort to increase food availability in the Gasquet Community.  Last May, First 5 Del Norte spearheaded an effort to build a community garden at Mountain School open to all residents of Gasquet. This orchard is an expansion of the garden and will also be open to all of Gasquet.  After the garden was built last May, Patti Vernelson, Director of First 5, and Michael Waddle, Americorps VISTA with Community Assistance Network (CAN), applied for a grant through Jamba Juice on behalf of Mountain School.  The grant awards $500.00 to schools to be spent on fruit trees and only fruit trees.  You don't need to be an arborist to know that $500.00 worth of fruit trees won't plant themselves, so some community organization needed to take place.
Patti Vernelson and Connor Caldwell, Americorps VISTA with CAN, started attending Mountain School PTO meetings to get parents and school staff involved with the project.  Since the garden-building project last May went so well, everyone was eager to repeat the success.  Patti and Connor, Sara Haug and Sarah Demuth (both VISTAs with First 5), and the PTO mobilized and worked together to make flyers, coordinate food, obtain the trees, get compost, and spread the word to the whole Gasquet community.  With $500.00 burning a hole in our collective pocket, Jon and Sierra Schenck, Gasquet residents and parents, worked with Miller Farm's Nursery in McKinleyville to use our grant wisely, and ended up getting 24 fruit trees to make an orchard of 5 different types of fruit!
With the trees obtained, compost delivered, the word spread, and an array of homemade soups, chili, and cornbread (thanks to PTO parents!), the orchard was ready to be planted.  Attempting any outdoor activity in Del Norte in January is risky, but we were lucky enough to have the sun shining on us all day, with only a little wind.  After getting breakfast, provided by Deb Kravitz of Network for a Healthy California, the volunteers started digging holes and breaking through the "Gasquet Potatoes" to make 3'x3' holes, deep enough to plant the saplings to their "grafting point."  Suzanne Nurre and Michael Laslovich, Gasquet residents with extensive farming, gardening, and nursery experience, showed the volunteers how to properly mix compost in with the natural soil and spread the roots out to ensure they grow properly and can expand into the earth.
The planting was a success, and the volunteers were able to plant all 24 fruit trees in less than two hours!  With the coming rainy season, these trees will be heavily watered in and be ready for continued maintenance this summer.  The Gasquet Orchard Day was yet another inspiring and positive project that Gasquet residents and all Del Norte community members can be proud of.

Thanks to Kelley Atherton for the excellent coverage in The Triplicate, and for helping spread the word on great community projects.

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