Four fruit trees planted on the edge of a school playground can teach children lessons they’ll never get from a textbook.
When Lafayette optometrist Dr. Thom Dinh donated the trees to the Baton Rouge Foreign Language Academic Immersion Magnet school this summer, she hoped they would spark the students’ interest in growing and eating fruits and vegetables.
“In the long run, it could impact their food choices and help them live a healthier life,” Dinh said, standing next to a pear tree. “Food is huge.”
These trees, their newly planted trunks still skinny, are the first of hundreds, maybe even thousands, the 32-year-old Dinh wants to see go in the ground. The Scotlandville Magnet High School alumna envisions small fruit orchards at every East Baton Rouge Parish school system campus, and, to make that happen, she’s pledging to give $1,000 worth of trees to each school.
“One day I want it to be where the fruit trees are all grown, and we can have a field day where the parents and the community can all come out,” she said. “There are all kinds of projects that can come out of this.”
The magnet school’s principal, Cheryl Miller, is happy the trees are growing on the Mayflower Street campus.
“Anytime when kids can see where food comes from, kids are just amazed when they see things growing,” Miller said.
Fruits, especially the most exotic varieties, are beloved in Asian cultures, Dinh said. Growing up in Baton Rouge, Dinh’s family always had a garden and planted fruit trees.
“My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and we had a garden,” she said. “Organic was not a foreign concept … we would eat whatever she would grow.”
After college in Houston and Florida, Dinh returned to Louisiana and started an optometry practice with offices in Lafayette and Covington.
Brainstorming ways she could give back to the community last fall, Dinh started to think of all the open space at schools she attended in Baton Rouge.
Inspired by community fruit orchards in public places in Seattle and Los Angeles, she thought the schools would be the perfect place for fruit trees.
“There are communities that don’t have access to fresh fruits and fresh vegetables,” she said. “I think if we have the space to do it as a community, we should.”
She contacted the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board and was surprised how quickly the plan came together. Working with the school system’s grant application staff to flesh out details, she paid for the trees and any supplies used in their planting. Slow Food Baton Rouge ensured they were planted properly.
The two satsuma oranges, a ruby red grapefruit and, Dinh’s favorite, a Shinko pear, were planted this summer on the high end of a sunny slope next to the playground.
After a wet June, Miller started watering the trees throughout July and August.
“I’ve prayed for rain every day,” she said.
Dihn said she hopes just watching the fruit grow will entice students at the school to try more fruits. Making fruit available to children would be one positive step to combatting the high rate of obesity in Louisiana, she said.
“Louisiana food is amazing, but it’s not very healthy,” she said. “If we don’t introduce and expose kids to the different varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables, then I feel like growing up they will continue to make bad food decisions.”
When Dinh first imagined the gift, she didn’t realize the system had more than 70 campuses. Planting trees at every campus in the parish school system could take a while.
“I’m young,” Dinh said. “I have a full career ahead of me. It might take me 10 years. It might take me 15 years.”