Nearly thirty students in the Watts neighborhood of South Los Angeles rose at 7 AM last Saturday to spend the day at their high school Alliance Cindy and Bill Simon Technology Academy, or Simon Tech, as everyone seems to call it. If you know teenagers, this fact alone is remarkable. But it gets even better. They came not to play but to give away fruit trees and teach others how to plant them. Anyone in the community who wanted a tree — apple or peach — could have one.
Just ask sophomore Camden Tillman, who was all action on Saturday morning — singing and dancing and cracking jokes with her classmates and neighbors. Little wonder then that she said her favorite part of planting and giving away trees was “the interaction with nature and people.”
Simon Tech, like much of the two square miles of Watts, sits on a shade-less block where concrete reigns underfoot and chain-link fences loom overhead. The neighborhood’s tree canopy coverage hovers around a bare 10% whereas the city as a whole has more than double that. Here, nature is a luxury. Families have more pressing concerns: finding work, feeding their children.
But thanks to the leadership and guidance of Simon Tech faculty members like biology teacher Fred Carr, and TreePeople’s very own Marcos Trinidad, the next generation is learning that trees and all of Mother Nature can’t be a luxury but is an inherent part of their community’s support system. In the weeks leading up to their neighborhood fruit tree distribution, the students came to TreePeople and were trained as Citizen Foresters.
“I learned a lot at TreePeople’s Citizen Forester training. I had no idea how many gallons of water you need for one tree,” said sophomore Gabriela Gonzalez.
A lot of water, yes, but we get so much back: trees give us health, clean air and water, food, and, perhaps most powerfully of all, connection.
The Watts Fruit Tree Giveaway Festival is just one of four similar events around the city put on by TreePeople this year, as part of our work to increase tree canopy coverage in under-shaded parts of Los Angeles, and bring more fresh fruit and community into people’s lives.
Senior Jamileth Arellano could have slept in on Saturday; she finished her required school volunteer hours months ago. She chose to come anyway: “I live around here. This is my community. I’m excited to take a peach tree home and plant it.”
Watching his students on their hands and knees in the dirt planting a row of trees, Fred Carr smiled and said, “I think they see now that they can live somewhere that looks nice. And that they aren’t alone; they can do this with their friends, and it can be fun.”