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Raising Crops and Funds

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 4.20.54 PM BY ALEX CANTATORE

Everyone has sold chocolate, or cookie dough, or popcorn to help raise money for his or her school.

But here, in the heart of America’s agricultural heartland, why not sell something local – and healthier? Why not sell fruit trees?

That’s the question Jason Hall, Owner and General Manager of La Grange-based Green Tree Nursery, asked himself one day.

Hall thought his “fruit cocktail” trees, which bear fun names like Peach Party, Cherry Bomb, and Fruit Splash, would be a perfect fit for school fundraisers. Intriguingly, each tree produces multiple types of fruit; the Fruit Splash grows peaches, plums, nectarines, and apricots on different branches, while the Peach Party has five different varieties of peach.

“You can have fruit all through the season,” Hall explains.

It’s just the kind of creative, fun item to do well in school fundraisers. And so it has; the 49-year-old, family-owned Green Tree Nursery moves 2,000 to 3,000 trees annually through fundraisers at local schoScreen Shot 2015-05-05 at 4.18.11 PMols like Ceres, Gregori, Johansen, and Pitman high schools, as well as numerous local FFAs and 4-Hs. It’s just a small part of the massive nursery’s business, but it’s an important one.

It’s healthier than selling candy or pancakes and it’s more profitable too, earning students $20 to $25 per tree. Some groups raise as much as $5,000 from the program.

Perhaps more importantly, the fruit cocktail trees start a discussion about agriculture. Even here, many city folk don’t know much about the industry that sustains this region.

“They see the fruit in the store, and they don’t really know where it comes from,” Hall says.

When Hall walks into a classroom with one of his fruit cocktail trees, even many ag-savvy children become confused. A single tree bearing peaches, plums, apricots, and nectarines?

“You kinda blow the kids’ minds when you tell them there are five different kinds of fruit on one tree,” Hall said.

The children are incredulous. They squint at the trees, often saying, “Wow, was this made in a lab?” Hall takes the opportunity to explain how the trees were created the old-fashioned way, using ancient techniques.

It starts with five or six separate trees, each traditional examples of the fruit trees. From each of those mother trees, a bud is sliced off. The buds are grafted and spliced onto a different variety of tree, a hearty rootstock, and they slowly grow together.

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 4.14.12 PM“Each one, eventually, will become it’s own fruit living on the rootstock,” Hall explains.

The rootstock and varieties are specifically selected to become ripe at different times, and for ease of care. They’re simple to grow, able to sustain some of the over- and under-watering that beginners will inevitably engage in.

Students can watch their trees grow through the years and enjoy the fruits of their labor – literally.

And in the process, without even knowing it, they’re learning about agriculture, farming, and where their food comes from.

“You can grow your own,” Hall said. “You can control it, and you can be very involved with the food you put on the table.”


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