Cultivating a community

Parents, students, teachers and community members from Nathaniel Hawthorne Elementary School hope their recent hard work planting an orchard will bear fruit as more than a learning tool for years to come. 

The project is a partnership with The Giving Grove, a nonprofit organization that provided the resources to plant and upkeep fruit bearing trees that the school and neighborhood will benefit from in the upcoming months.  

This partnership is available to all Dallas ISD schools, said Geri Strong, program manager of Grow North Texas, the local affiliate of The Giving Grove, which is the national umbrella organization based out of Kansas City, Mo. 

“The criteria includes having at least two volunteers that would be able to take care of the orchard, access to water, that the orchard receives at least eight hours of sun a day, and the school agrees that at least 50 percent of the fruit produced will go directly to the neighborhood or be donated to the food bank,” Strong said. The one-page application is simple, and once the initial requirements are met, the project needs administrative approval. 

The school, which already had a school garden in place, added the orchard component, a move fully embraced by the school’s community.

“The idea is that over the third year, fruit will be readily available for the community,” said Rebecca Ajuluchukwu, Hawthorne’s instructional coach. 

The process included identifying an area to plant the trees, as well as determining what kinds of fruits would be available for Texas conditions. 

“We are planting fig trees, blackberry bushes, pears, and pomegranate, and 80 percent of the fruit will go to the community,” she said. 

The orchards needs volunteer tree stewards who learn how to care for the trees. Ajuluchkwu, who is one of the stewards, says she and other volunteers are being trained to take on this responsibility. 

“The Giving Tree is paying for all the soil and materials needed to keep the trees healthy.They are providing us with support on the planting days as well,” she said. 

Among the things that The Giving Grove offers is creating a space for community members to gather and learn about healthy food and healthy eating habits. 

“Edible education is very important because we have 10-year-olds in Dallas County with type 2 diabetes because of the food they’re eating,” said Kim Aman, executive director of Grow Garden Grow, a school garden support organization that has been working on the school garden. “Teaching kids about the food system, what to grow and what to eat, is important. If they plant it, they are more likely to eat it. The push is to get healthier kids and a healthier environment.” 

San Juana Ayala Contreras, one of the parent volunteers who helped plant the orchard, sees how this work will benefit students and future generations.

“I think it is important for the children to see how the process of planting a tree is, but above all, to be aware that if we plant the trees with great care and with all its processes, such as providing water and fertilization, they will give us fruit in the future,” Ayala Contreras said. 

Ana Fernandez, principal at Hawthorne says these efforts have been a dream come true.

“We have been thinking about this for a long time,” she said. “Step by step we have been building a garden, and now with the addition of the orchard, this will bring more opportunities for students and their families to work together. Our parent volunteers stop by during the weekends and during the summer to help us water the plants. They help us care for the garden. We are cultivating a community.” 

To learn more about the opportunities available through The Giving Grove, visit

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