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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Newtown’s Fruit Trail Ripens: A Path Toward Global Restoration

Oct 01, 2016 11:47PM ● By Leslie McLean and Andrew Mangold

It’s time to restore the Earth. We need to ask ourselves how we can restore our environment, re-establish natural resources, bring people together and produce food and medicine for others while also having some fun.

Greentek is an organization that performs edible, ecological restoration by conducting healing events on damaged land, bringing the community together in the spirit of world repair. It not only transforms the land but has a healing impact on all those who attend. Greentek’s formula is simple: conduct rapid rehabilitation of sites to productivity while healing people in the process. Allow plants and food generated at each site to feed back into the organization as a whole, creating an entire network of sites that use internally generated resources to grow onto further damaged land.

The most recent Greentek initiative has been the installation of the Newtown Fruit Trail in the town in which the organization was founded. The trail is a one-mile, paved walking loop in the heart of town, lined with hundreds of fruit trees, nut trees, berry bushes and healing native plants. For one recent weekend in June, the people of Newtown came together to install this revolutionary project.

The Fruit Trail brings productivity back to the landscape, setting a new precedent for public production. The trail draws on food forest techniques to create a massive edible, ecological planting that provides for the health of the land and the people. The Fruit Trail began in 2012 with a project called the Sustainable Community Farm Park. As fate would have it, the meeting to secure the Farm Park site was scheduled for December 14, 2012. Sandy Hook Elementary School was just a few miles from the proposed location; needless to say, the meeting never occurred. Like so many other things happening in Newtown at the time, the project was put on hold.

In 2015, Greentek founders began to organize again. Newtown’s old Fairfield Hills campus had been transforming into a public park, including a new, one-mile walking loop that had just been paved. Upon proposal, our project was granted permission to proceed along the trail by each of the public boards, including the Board of Selectmen, the Land Use Department, Parks and Recreation and the Fairfield Hills Authority.

The design was conceived through a public community design studio, which was live for one month in an accessible library to collect the community’s collective visions, inspiration and talent.

The Fruit Trail emphasizes a mixed selection of hardy fruit and nut trees that thrive with little care in New England. Species like hawthorn, serviceberry, persimmon and pawpaw bear hefty loads of fruit without pruning or pest issues. The trees are supported by native herbs and wildflowers that then support beneficial insects. These plants form an “understory” that retains moisture, builds soil and suppresses weeds, creating a low-maintenance planting with decreased care and increasing yields.

On the morning of June 11, more than 50 volunteers showed up at Fairfield Hills to install the long-anticipated Newtown Fruit Trail. After a welcoming circle, the design was divided into several small sections, each led by an experienced leader to guide the design to success. Volunteers were assigned to planting, mulching, watering and layout. Each team started by planting a ceremonial tree together before beginning to plant their section.

The early sketches of the Fruit Trail have begun to come into fruition. The trail is rich with persimmon trees, mulberries and a stand of pawpaw. Inside the main planting are semi-dwarf fruit trees, such as apples, peaches, medlar and asian pear. Inside the trees grow rows of berry bushes with currants, gooseberry, aronia and blueberry. Through the plants drape strawberries over a thick bed of mulch and minerals, checkered with thyme and bugle groundcovers and packed with lavender, oregano and sage. A host of native wildflowers support bees and butterflies, from echinacea, black cohosh and bush-honeysuckle to hyssop and ferns.

“The Newtown Fruit Trail grows directly across the road from the local intermediate school. Fifth and sixth graders have direct access to the planting with safe passage from a crossing guard every day after school. The very children who were present at Sandy Hook Elementary will enter the intermediate school in a few years, exactly when our trees are starting to bear fruit. These children will always have a safe, new place of peace in nature, growing alongside our trees at the magical, flowering Fruit Trail,” says Andrew Mangold, Greentek project director.

For more information on the Fruit Trail, visit Donations are accepted and volunteers are welcomed. See Community Resource Guide listing, page 65.

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