Students in both the West Salem and Holmen school districts planted their own apple orchards on Thursday, marking the start of what West Salem calls their food forest.
West Salem Director of Nutrition Services Kerri Feyen says on average the district spends $2,000 on apples a day during the school year. The forest aims to reduce some of those costs while incorporating more locally sourced foods into schools.
Made possible by the La Crosse County Health Department's Nature Connections program and an anonymous tree donation, the food forest connects students with projects in nature while teaching them the benefits of healthy locally sourced options.
The orchard is the first stage of the project with more food to be planted next summer.
"Eventually we will be adding pear and cherry trees, and then blueberry bushes to the food forest next year in hopes that we have an, almost sustainable, fruit supply for the first few months of our school year," West Salem Director of Nutrition Services Kerri Feyen explains.
With the plan to supply food for West Salem students in the years to come, current students realize the impact this project will have.
"That's going to be kind of weird because they will be eating the food that you helped make," West Salem second grader Adalyn Iverson describes.
West Salem's 50 tree orchard will produce an estimated 7,500 apples to be used in their daily nutrition program and local food pantries.
Holmen's orchard includes 60 trees, expected to yield between 250 and 300 bushels of apples a year.
Both orchards are expected to produce apples for the students by 2021.