THE BRONX — The biggest orchard in New York City could soon be bearing fruit in the Bronx.
Students at the Bronx Guild High School have planted the first of 150 fruit trees in a one-acre plot of wasteland in Soundview.
It's the latest project at the school which tries to capture the interests of students through workplace training in programs such as its urban agriculture project — which has already brought chickens and bees to the neighborhood.
"I am hoping that the orchard gives these kids an opportunity to plan something out, which they have done, and just to see it come to completition," said science teacher Bill Lynam, who runs the project.
"There are so many incompletes in all of their lives."
The idea first sprouted in September last year. Students, with the help of Lynam, have measured out the land and positioned tree plots, as well as drawn up a budget.
"We are going to be planting peach, apple, pear, fig," said Lynam, whose background is in forestry and wildlife biology with a masters in environmental engineering. "We are going to have berry bushes around the outside."
The cost of the project is $4,000, with much of it hopefully covered by grants and in-kind donations.
"I am very interested in grassroots funding,” said Lynam. Many of the students donate time during weekends for the project.
On a bright Friday morning this month, a procession of eight students, a teacher and two chickens made their way down to the field for the first official tree planting.
The boys, such as senior Basilous Falconer, quickly went to work loosening up the soil.
"A lot of our kids had never before handled a shovel, or any other gardening tool for that matter," said Lynam.
Lynam and a few students lift the apple tree into the hole while students Crystal Germsen, Kadijah Plummer and Aaliyah Cammick finished the job by loading soil back into the hole.
For senior Yonathon Ledesma, 19, the orchard is a lasting legacy for both school and community.
"I imagine coming back in 15 years and seeing all these trees developed," he said.
"I think it is going to be pretty awesome."
The urban agricultural project at the school has many aspects aside from the orchard, including chickens, bees, mushrooms and small gardening plots.
"I spend 15 hours a week with chickens," said Jose Espinal, 15, who helps water, feed and manage the school’s chicken project.
"Taking care of animals is not that easy."
"A lot of our kids come from single family homes or foster care," said assistant principal Meghan Best, who said most come from families which earn less than $29,000 per year.
At the school, students spend two days a week in a chosen internship, either with a local business or service, or in a school-based initiative like the urban agricultural project. The remainder of their time is spent in traditional instruction.
The school keeps class sizes small at 18 students. The young people also have access to a mentor-teacher who stays with them throughout their four years at the Bronx Guild.
"All of this is problem solving and deciding what they want and going after it," said Best of the orchard.
"It’s a dream big kind of project."