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Home » From the Commissioner

Forevergreen School-to-Farm-Project

New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food (December 22, 2013)

ChristmastreesFallLoading the Christmas Trees for Troops into the double Fedex trailer at The Rocks Estate Christmas Tree Farm in Bethlehem is always an inspiring and photogenic event. This year 450 trees were collected at The Rocks from growers across New Hampshire and Vermont. The entire fifth-grade class from Bethlehem Elementary School was mentored by some of the seasoned sixth-graders, as they fastened tags on each tree and prepared for loading. The tags have instructions in care of the tree on one side, and personal hand-written greetings from the fifth-graders, plus the
name of the business or individual donor who paid for the tree on the other.

A team of North Country volunteer veterans support and assist the children in the tree-loading brigade, which is organized similarly to an old-fashioned bucket brigade. Bethlehem Police Chief Michael Ho Sing Loy was one of the veterans helping the school children to load the Trees for Troops. Soon all the children were singing holiday songs as they passed the trees down the line to the truck.

Lori Raichle, one of the moms who helped drive the students to The Rocks, told me she loves the event, and coming to The Rocks, which is owned by the Society for Protection of NH Forests. “But this isn’t all that this farm does for the school,” she said. All classes at the school make annual learning trips to The Rocks. Every year the kindergarten class plants two dozen Christmas trees, and then each class returns each year to help care for “their” trees and learn about growing Christmas trees and science and nature. Each year the sixth-graders select trees from their class’s crop to be
cut and displayed in the school through the holiday season.

Raichle told me her oldest daughter, now in high school, still loves visiting The Rocks and talks about all the class trips over her seven years at Bethlehem Elementary. Many students bring their families throughout the seasons of the year to visit the special area set aside for growing the school trees.

Raichle was describing the Forevergreen Program developed by The Rocks in partnership with the nearby Bethlehem Elementary School. Over the course of their K-6 years, students discover various aspects of a local Christmas tree farm, from how a tree grows and how tree farmers care for their crop, to the wildlife that benefit from Christmas tree farming.

Farm manager Nigel Manley notes that the Forevergreen curriculum provides a way for students to become acquainted with agriculture and the local environment. The curriculum is available on The Rocks website (visit TheRocks.org, click on Education and then School Programs), and may be adapted and used by any pairing of a school and a local tree farm. Students learn about planting, weeding, shearing and harvesting of the crop—and a lot more. Manley says students enjoy
visiting their trees with family members outside of the school trips, so he advises planting the school trees in an area that is accessible year-round.

After planting their trees as kindergartners, the children learn in first grade about fertilizing Christmas trees. The second-graders learn concepts of community, and the differences between a natural community and a monoculture. Third-graders learn about forest communities and identification of local tree species. In fourth grade students are introduced to the concept of competition, and fifth-graders learn how trees grow. In the final year of the program students learn
about grading, marketing and the economics of Christmas trees.

Most of the class trips occur in May, but third and fifth-grade field trips are scheduled for September. The sixth grade visits in December to learn about grading and harvesting of Christmas trees.

The Forevergreen program is a great example of how local farms can benefit local schools, families and communities.

Lorraine Merrill, Commissioner  lorrainemerrill

Department of Agriculture, Markets, & Food

 (This column is excerpted from the Weekly Market Bulletin, Dec. 18, 2013 )

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