Happy 5th Birthday to the Deer Creek Orchard

3rd Grade students at Deer Creek School participating in an orchard lesson.
3rd Grade students at Deer Creek School participating in an orchard lesson.

There is a special classroom at Deer Creek Elementary School in Nevada City that does not appear on building maps – it’s the fruit orchard that runs along the baseball field! The orchard, which was planted five years ago by Common Vision, is finally starting to produce fruit. It contains a variety of organic fruit trees, including some lesser known apple varieties, plums, figs, peaches, and even pomegranates!

Sierra Harvest is helping students learn from this outdoor classroom by coordinating two teachers to connect students with the orchard – farmer and Sierra Harvest Food Love Program Manager Maggie McProud and naturalist/horticulturalist Daniel Nicholson. McProud and Nicholson bring every student in the school into the orchard three times a year so that the students can observe and experience what is happening in the orchard during the different seasons. And, they get to taste local fruit while they are there. Fruit is a great introduction to ecology,” says Nicholson. “It’s a bridge to the greater ecological world.”

Using an orchard as a classroom benefits Deer Creek students in so many ways. Observing the orchard helps them stay connected to natural cycles, and it ties in with the curriculum they are learning in the classroom. “We see a lot of dots connecting,” says McProud. “We link the seasons to the trees’ life cycle.” Students also get to taste local fruits that they may not have tried before, and McProud often hears them say: “I’m going to ask my parents to buy that for me” after tasting.

It’s a pretty special place – not every school gets to hold classes in a food forest. When I was observing, the enthusiasm was palpable. Several Girl Scouts approached to proudly let us know that they were the ones responsible for spreading the wood chip mulch. Budding horticulturalists were excitedly identifying fruit trees, based on leaf shapes. And almost all of the students asked for a second taste of the Fuyu persimmons and Fuji apples. With support from Sierra Harvest and the Deer Creek Parent Teacher Club, this orchard will continue to provide a valuable and enjoyable outdoor learning experience for years to come.

If you would like to see an orchard class in action, call Sierra Harvest at 530-265-2343 to set up an appointment.