by Human Ecology Fellow –  Alicia Barlow
Grafting, budding, scion, rootstalk and upside down T graft are all words and phrases that are now part of the vocabulary of six students here at The Island School. One of the most unique and meaningful times of an Island School semester occurs when students embark on their 8-day kayak and Down Island Trips. As a Human Ecology teaching fellow this semester, I have stayed on campus to act as a mini-project advisor to those students who are participating in the academic portion of these rotations. During Human Eco class, students were split into groups and assigned a project theme to work with, and were expected to design and complete a project in a week and a half and then present their finished products to the remaining students on campus. During the first half of our rotations I worked with six students under the theme of “agriculture” as they attempted to bring the process of budding and grafting fruit trees to The Island School orchard.

These students had already visited a local farm during the agriculture segment of our Human Ecology curriculum, where a farmer – Edrin Symonette – introduced them to the concept of budding to produce fruit trees. As part of this mini-project, Harry, Annabelle, James, Hallie, John and Emily called Edrin and asked if we could return to his farm and receive a personal lesson on grafting from him. Edrin agreed to meet us on Sunday, his one day off a week, to talk about grafting and show us some of the trees he has already produced by this process. Delighted, we returned to his farm and videotaped the lesson Edrin provided. Then as a special treat, Edrin took us on a tour of his farm and orchard, including a visit to see some newborn goats. The students were thrilled.

During this visit we learned that setting up grafted fruit trees in The Island School orchard could take up to three years. Though discouraged at first, we were eventually able to move past the barrier of our limited time frame to see the project as a long-term goal. I observed these six students as they struggled to form a project, the disappointment they felt after learning that it could not be completed in under two weeks, and then their resolve to continue in the hopes that others would complete their work when the time comes for them to pass it on. They pressed forward and though they didn’t have fully grafted fruit trees by the end of their project, they had learned some valuable lessons along the way. It was a remarkable process to watch and one that truly illustrates the unparalleled depth and spread of learning that is possible through experiential education.