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'RetreeUS' helps Maine schools plant orchards

The New Hampshire-based nonprofit has already supplied seeds and education to 55 Maine schools across the state.

HOLLIS, Maine — Students at Hollis Elementary School have been getting their hands dirty by planting vegetables, herbs, and flowers in the school's garden.

Jen Pinkham is a teacher and Hollis Elementary's Garden Coordinator. Her relationship with gardening began at a young age.

"I grew up with my parents and grandparents wanting my brother and I always involved in the big family garden we had," said Pinkham. 

About six years ago, Pinkham was looking for ways to integrate more outdoor learning at the school and came across the local nonprofit ReTreeUS. 

"And I'm like, 'Oh my gosh! They have a plant an orchard at your school for free program! I'm taking advantage of this!'"

Hollis is one of 55 Maine schools where RetreeUS has now donated seeds and provided education to help plant orchards.

"Being outside and having experiences in nature is really important to the development of young people," said RetreeUS Program Manager Richard Hodges.

Hodges said Maine's agricultural sector may benefit from these early introductions, "by empowering students to grow their own food, we're absolutely hoping to power the next generation of farmers and gardeners."

The food grown on the school's apple trees and in the garden will supplement the school lunches.

Currently, RetreeUS is focused on bringing trees to schools, but it also helps out schools that have established gardens, like Hollis. Hodges says he hopes to expand the group's garden services in the future.

RetreeUS recently received a grant to support 10 schools throughout the state of Maine with their "back to school garden program." The program aims to solve the issue of summer maintenance. 

To learn how your school can partner with RetreeUS, click here.

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