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Planting for the future; SHIP funds help establish apple orchard at Perham school

Sophomore Christian Hinckley, left, and ninth grader Jaden Wallace dig a hole in preparation for the planting of an apple tree. Despite the mild weather, the students were happy to be outside to help with the creation of the apple orchard. Sam Benshoof/FOCUS

The Prairie Wind Middle School in Perham will soon boast an apple orchard and blueberry plants.

On May 11-13, students helped dig holes and plant apple trees as the start of the '549 Orchard,' which is funded by PartnerSHIP 4 Health, a branch of Minnesota's Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP). The orchard program was created using SHIP funds.

The orchard will include 40 apple trees and 50 blueberry plants, said Trish McClellan, SHIP coordinator for Perham schools.

More than 10 different varieties of apple trees were planted on May 12, and blueberry plants will be planted sometime in the near future.

SHIP's goal is to help Minnesotans reduce risk factors for chronic illness by improving nutrition and physical activity opportunities.

When the trees start producing apples, the fruit will go right into the food program, McClellan said. Students will likely help with harvesting of the apples as well.

"It will probably be two years before the first harvest," she said. "But possibilities for handling any surplus fruit include freezing, drying and canning fruit for future use by the school district, as well as the option of sharing or selling the fruit in the community."

"This is a real two-for-one," Patrick Hollister of SHIP said. "This project hits both nutrition and physical fitness, SHIP's main goals."

SHIP is fighting obesity in Minnesota, Hollister said, and gardening can be a tool in that fight.

"Gardening, or in this case making an orchard, attacks obesity from both sides," he added. "It's a great day."

Carl Aakre's landscaping class helped to dig the holes and plant the trees. Tom Meinhover of Grass Roots Nursery in Ottertail also assisted with the creation of the orchard, loaning equipment and delivering the apple trees.

McClellan said that Russ Winkels, Perham schools facilities coordinator, also helped with the project in ensuring that grounds work will be up to code.

According to McClellan, the orchard will have an automated irrigation system to meet the watering needs of young plants. Aqualawn is installing the system.

"Having food grown right on campus really open a kid's eyes in terms of nutrition," McClellan said. "The apple goes from the tree to their lunch tray. Not to a factory for processing. That's got to be a powerful message."