70 apple trees have been planted in primary schools across the UK to celebrate the 70th birthday of HRH The Prince of Wales.

Earlier this month, the Sustainable Food Trust’s Harmony Project, in collaboration with Grow at Brogdale, announced the start of an orchard regeneration project to mark the 70th birthday of HRH The Prince of Wales. The project saw the planting of 70 heritage apple trees in ten primary schools across the UK.

By engaging schools in planting their own orchards, The Harmony Project hopes to reconnect children to the story of where their fruit has traditionally come from and to help them to see how they can be part of the re-creation of local fruit orchards in their communities. According to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, 90% of the UK’s orchards were lost in the post-war period, a time when supermarkets sold only a few varieties of fruits, the majority imported from overseas.

“Community orchards used to be a real feature of community life” says The Harmony Project’s Richard Dunne. “Sadly, many of them have been lost to development, along with the expertise that went with them. The richness of knowledge about local varieties of fruit trees that had been passed on from generation to generation was replaced by a monoculture of a handful of popular varieties” like Gala and Braeburn – those that are most common on our supermarket shelves.

The project to regenerate orchards helps to highlight the importance of connecting with our local environment and preserving the diversity of our plant varietals. It allows children to witness the wonders of nature and consume food fresh from their school grounds.

Children with trees at Damers First School

Children with trees at Damers First School

Richard is also Headteacher at Ashley CofE Primary School in Surrey, where the Principles of Harmony have been applied to the curriculum. He believes that, “Learning how to plant an apple tree is not only a wonderful experience for children, it gets them to reconnect to the soil and understand the importance of growing local, heritage varieties of fruit. With so much of our fruit coming from overseas, it is a great way to help children appreciate locally-sourced food and to enjoy the different kinds of apples in their orchard.”

The Harmony Project takes its inspiration from the ideas set out in HRH The Prince of Wales’  book Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World. This highlights how we must learn from nature – and live in harmony with it – in order to shape a more sustainable future. The concept of Harmony reveals a number of important truths, namely that everything in the universe is connected and balanced by universal laws and relationships, which express themselves everywhere, and in all things, manifested in the laws of physics, the solar system, the shape and growth patterns of plants, the beauty of nature, music, architecture and food and farming.

The Sustainable Food Trust’s Chief Executive Patrick Holden feels that the orchard project is a clear example of how we can live in harmony with our environment and communities: “Having a relationship with trees is one of the best ways of reconnecting with nature while at the same time contributing toward greenhouse gas emission reduction,” he says.

Children involved in tree planting at Sheldwich Primary School

Children involved in tree planting at Sheldwich Primary School

The carefully selected heritage fruit trees that are being planted at the schools have been grafted by Grow at Brogdale, the specialist fruit tree centre based at the National Fruit Collection in Faversham. It is a centre of excellence for fruit trees and bushes with over 2,400 apple varieties; 500 pear varieties; 300 cherry and plum varieties; berries, nuts, currants and vines. Grow at Brogdale is expanding its nursery on-site to increase production and promote rare and heritage fruit trees to more and more people.

The Harmony Project and Grow at Brogdale hope that this project will continue with the planting of orchards in UK schools, each November, for the next decade. Managing Director of Grow at Brogdale, Brian Cooper, says: “We have geared our choices toward the old, traditional heritage varieties [and] regional cultivars that commercial demands have seen all but disappear in recent times.”

Children take lead role in orchard planting at St John's CofE Primary School

Children take lead role in orchard planting at St John’s CofE Primary School

The Prince of Wales, who has over 1000 different heritage apple trees at Duchy Home Farm in Gloucestershire, (each one a different variety from the Brogdale collection), recently visited Damers First School in Poundbury, coinciding with the arrival of their trees. Several children from the school were able to talk to HRH about how they have been learning about the Harmony Principles. Other schools involved in the tree planting include Ashely CofE Primary School, Walton-on-Thames; Sheldwich Primary School, Faversham; St John’s CofE Primary School, Dorking; Berrymede School, London; and Mill Hill Primary Academy, Stoke-on-Trent.

A year six student from St John’s, who was involved in the tree planting last week, said, “It is amazing how many varieties of apple trees there are, and I really enjoyed helping to plant them. I can’t wait to find out whether there is a Fibonacci Sequence in the apples when they grow.”

It is the hope that eventually all schools across the UK will have their own orchards so that, with the help of local nurseries, children are able to take a lead role in the regeneration of local community orchards and enjoy the fruits of their labour.

Photographs: Damer’s First Primary School; Sheldwich Primary School; St John’s Primary School 

Sign up to our Newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest SFT views and news