By Mathew Tomlinson

Cape Cod Community College recently approved a proposal to introduce a fruit orchard on campus grounds. The initiative, spearheaded by Ethan Hansen, president of Phi Theta Kappa and Professor Keli Gates, seeks to enrich the health of the students by creating access to fresh fruits, and provide a resource to teach and inform students of methods in sustainable agriculture and self -sufficiency.

The idea came to Hansen, a student at 4C’s during the spring. Hansen shared his early experience within the club. “It started during Covid, right in the middle of the pandemic when I became an active member of PTK. I almost immediately assumed the President role. When I went in, I was presented with this project idea of reduce, reuse, recycle.” Hansen soon turned his sights to a regional nonprofit “I know of this non-profit organization called RetreeUS, based out of Maine” he said. “Their focus is to go to schools and plant orchards, and they try to raise awareness of healthy environmental practices. Promoting education for the students and schools and trying to repopulate the earth with trees. I had the idea: what if we took these things and put them together? As it progressed, I reached out to RetreeUS and we started to get the ball rolling.”

Hansen found a staunch ally in Professor Gates, a philosophy professor affectionately known as “Swan” by her students. She recounted Ethan’s pitch to her. “When the PTK first came up with this idea and Ethan brought it up to me, he said “what do you think is going to happen here?” I said “here’s the questions you are going to get: who’s paying for what? How are you doing this? Who’s going to sustain it?”  He came up with the idea to create a campus club that would then take on the stewardship of the orchard itself. Hopefully we could get one representative from all the clubs on campus to be part of the club, so if there was a service project they wanted to collaborate on, we could build relationships with the other clubs and their members.” She spoke on their familiarity. “I’ve known Ethan for two years. He knows my background. I’ve had my own gardening business for fifteen years. I’ve always wanted something like this to be on campus. When he brought the idea to me, I said, “this is beautiful.””

The next step was to present their idea at the college meeting which gathers the entire faculty. Rebecca Griffin, an English and Literary professor at the college and member of PTK who witnessed the meeting, recounted Hansen’s appeal to the assembly. She said,” He did this presentation, there must have been one hundred people in the room. I get nervous when I present at college meeting, and here is this student presenting, and he did such a wonderful job. I’ve been here four and a half years and I’ve never seen such a positive response right off the bat to anybody’s proposal, ever!”

Far from being merely a practical proposal, Hansen’s passion for the project mirrors his passion for philosophy. “I’m a philosophy major. My whole being, I’m obsessed with the why of things, like why are we doing this?” He said, continuing “I started seeing this project as not just planting an orchard. During the times we live in of climate change and environmental crisis and division, I saw this as a way to address both these problems. This project is based around the idea of community for the sake of community and sustainability… How can we bring people together, just for the sake of helping each other and making a better world?””

Professor Gates likewise shared her beliefs in the potential benefits for the community. “So many people don’t have a clue how to plant a seed, what goes on in the dirt, how to work with nature, what sustainability even means. Why does it have to be vocational to learn to feed yourself? I’m excited that students get to have somebody there guiding them, and saying “go ahead and test your soil, this is how you do it. This is the stages you have to go through to grow a tree.” She explained their immediate and long-term plans. “It’s going to start off with some trees, but the next year we’re going to plant blueberries, grapes, beach plums that are native to Cape Cod. Learn about the different native grasses. I picture people coming to events, coming to farmers markets on campus where nobody goes, and space that is currently being forgotten.” She relayed hopes that various departments could benefit. “We’re hoping that science agriculture and horticulture can collaborate. How can we work together and create a real community and serve each other? I’d love to see more inter-department and inter-club community creations.”

The Orchard Club is currently figuring out the logistics surrounding the orchards installation. Portioning the land, having it cleared and inspected, and coordinating with RetreeUS. The club is seeking funding and opening its doors to new members. Students interested in joining the Orchard Club may reach out to Hansen and Gates. The Orchard Club meets on Mondays at 3:30 pm. Gates appealed to the community to join in their cause. “In the larger picture with any community project is creating those relationships. Food always brings people together. The bigger picture is to create a community here in this region.”