Since 2021, the Fruit Tree Plantation Drive has inspired the donation and planting of fruit-bearing trees through its volunteers worldwide with one simple goal, 100,000 planted for the future generations to come. This is the account from a volunteer in the USA of a series of defining moments experienced serving through the FTPD that brought about a great shift in the landscape of the drive and its volunteers here in the US. Although the drive was approached with immense effort in an organization and great enthusiasm, there were strides yet to be made until something significant happened.
Along came the founder with a helping hand of divine proportions that changed everything! In 2022, Mohanji’s visit to America left an incredible wave of energy and light infused into the Fruit Tree Plantation Drive. It is yet impossible to describe all the things that may have occurred as a result of these efforts and plantings here in the US and beyond, however, here is an unfolding observed by this lucky volunteer.
Directly off the plane in April 2022 Mohanji, and his executive assistant Christopher Greenwood, went straight to a meeting whilst devotees and friends from all over the USA gathered at a local vegan restaurant in Phoenix. Many had come to attend a one-day retreat in Sedona and had arrived early to participate in a fruit tree planting in South Phoenix. Yet another incredibly “synchronistic & serendipitous happening” of how that came about is a whole story in itself, we’ll just say that it was fully orchestrated by Tradition to set the stage for what followed. So as all the dear volunteers were happy with good food upon arrival, they were handed FTPD t-shirts to suit up and make their way to the planting to be joined and attended by Mohanji & team, Devi Mohan (global President of ACT Foundation), and a few friends. We arrived at ‘Spaces of Opportunity’, a local community garden, to create the beginnings of their food forest.
As we all gathered, there were great greetings, play, and conversations among all including the children in attendance. We were guided by the food forest team in an explanation of the land and instructions for planting and then slowly, we commenced. Memories of early on in the event were that even though the ground had not been watered & softened as planned and despite the extreme temps and heat, everyone was in great spirits and comfortable perhaps due to a few miracles incognito. I witnessed Mohanji at one point stop in one place standing with his hands on his hips, looking at the sky. Whatever was unfolding, truly the actions that ensued by all in this Herculean effort can be described as none other than sheer hard labor. Through the digging of the holes, carrying the trees (15 gallons), and then planting each tree (24 in total). the groundbreaking was done here! And none so, more than Mohanji himself was physically engaged beyond belief. The pictures from this day do not lie.
Mohanji’s truth in the original Ammucare response of how it would make it beyond one year applied, HE invests himself totally where it is needed, and what followed, I feel is completely in reciprocity to HIS offering. Towards the end of this planting after 4-5 hours, we had a visitor (a local VIP) that had met with Mohanji earlier that day. She arrived after clearing a space in her schedule from an impromptu invitation after their meeting. One would surmise, a curiosity in the least of what this happening by the way of “a fruit tree planting down the street” might be.
Upon arrival, what she found was a warm welcome amongst a beautiful group of people (& local volunteers) who had gathered in honor of Mohanji, ACT Foundation, and the FTPD to plant fruit-bearing trees in this local community garden. It was on this day that Mohanji joined by this honored guest, Ms. Melani Walton, planted an honorary fruit tree with Devi Mohan and her friend Trish McCarty (a galaxy peach tree). It was completely orchestrated to perfection after an immense effort by all. There was a beautiful ending ceremony in appreciation of everyone in attendance officiating this planting with goodwill towards All and especially the FTPD itself. Ms. Walton (honored guest), Mohanji, Devi Mohan, Trish McCarthy, and the food forest leader Alexis all spoke and expressed the importance of the day’s activities with gratitude. Ms. Walton was graceful and spoke sharing from a writing that she had composed on the way. I felt that everyone was fulfilled, inspired, and exhausted in a bliss-filled way! The Unexpected Fruits…
Later, towards the end of the summer ACT USA President Vidya Rajagopalan called with information that a grant had been awarded for planting more fruit-bearing trees in the US and inquired if there were any plans for Arizona. The immediate opportunities streamed to mind as I heard the intended grant usage throughout 6 to 7 states. I just couldn’t believe how effortlessly everything had flowed and now the possibility of distributing this incredible gift. In just 2 short years, the enthusiasm for donating and planting fruit-bearing trees here had gone from 2 at a time to 6 to 8 to 24, and now, wow! I could see how everything had been so well orchestrated and the groundwork laid here from previous donations, especially within the National Forest, and knew exactly who would be the perfect recipients.
These historical properties & orchardists’, with off-the-charts goodness factor, have been extraordinarily real people to approach that have truly invested themselves in alignment with our theme and I have been grateful to these men and women in the Canyon who have allowed me to enter their Stewardship fold to donate and plant at these historic properties. With the thought of distribution across several properties that are somewhat adjoining in the National Forest, the donations were envisioned that could be of the greatest benefit for honoring Mother Earth (herself) and for future generations of all species in the area. Not only for the community but also for the hundreds of thousands of nature lovers that pass through peak seasons, including the bears. Thus, the project came to light as a Land and Stewardship Grant Project for ACT USA/ Arizona contained within the larger entire USA grant awarded by Rob & Melani Walton Foundation.
Since then, the original vision held pretty much true to form with the addition of an unfolding a few months later of an additional allotment of trees! An amazing coincidence to spark new relationships with respected stewards to work with for the first time and also to include the original steward in Phoenix that was instrumental in the April 2022 planting. Thus, the granting in Arizona was coming full circle and would be equally distributed in two parts. The first is three properties in the Coconino National Forest with Historic Orchards (one being a state park) and the second part is to be distributed to two properties (one in the National Forest Red Rock District)both dedicated to Education in Sustainability & Biodiversity in not only educating students but providing platforms for them to engage in social service in feeding underprivileged children and elderly spanning from the Verde Valley to Phoenix. So the components and the potential impact of this project grew tremendously and became a larger expression of the original intention.To create a unique project in this part of the country that could round out the usage of the grant offering a wider spectrum of the capabilities of ACT USA and the FTPD. In February and March 2023, it was planting time as bare root trees are planted 6-8 weeks before the last frost. Everything was orchestrated from across the world in India and it couldn’t have gone smoother.
This project became a reality on a quiet morning in February when 124 bare-root heirloom fruit trees arrived at Verde Valley School. I got such joyous reports from the respective stewards who gathered and met one another while taking delivery of the trees. One even shared later that he almost had a tear as he was unwrapping the trees. The thought came that he didn’t ever think that he may have another opportunity to plant this amount of fruit-bearing trees again and was truly in a state of gratitude. The next phase began by introducing the trees into the ground. There were some differences in timing, as the Canyon elevation is of higher altitude, but most of the 124 trees out of the total of 155 were planted the week of Mohanji’s birthday celebrations while they were going on in Puri in February and then one more planting in the second week of March 2023.
On April 10th, after the trees had a chance to make it through some rough last winter frosts, almost everyone involved in the project gathered in celebration at Verde Valley School together with our honored guest Devi Mohan. In honor of her visit for a US tour in the Spring, it was a perfect excuse to bring all these amazing beings together! In attendance were Mike Spielman & John Chorlton from Verde Valley School, Rob Lauce from Orchard Canyon, Sarah Estrada from Junipine Resort, and Ranger Hank Vincent from Slide Rock State Park, along with a few other school faculty & honorary guests amongst them a dear friend and peer volunteer, Bhavani Nair from New York. We celebrated with some delicious food and conversations, truly a joyful gathering of high-frequency fun. Everyone had an opportunity to catch up and tour the orchard. The finishing touches were another dream facilitated by Caroline Diehl (Director of the Equestrian Program), who arranged for us to do Canadian for their 26 horses as part of the school’s equestrian program that ACT USA had recently donated to for 9 of their older horses (senior grain for a month). Although we were completing our visit, and cleaning up, it seems that Devi Mohan, escorted by Caroline, went to the school’s weekly meeting where the senior speeches were taking place and was also invited to speak on behalf of ACT Foundation and the values of social service called up from, the back of the auditorium. Pretty much a dream! On behalf of the FTPD and ACT USA as a volunteer in Arizona, I would like to express sincere and Immense gratitude to Rob & Melani Walton Foundation for their heartwarming generosity, Mohanji for Inspiring us all with this beautiful drive, Devi Mohan, Trish McCarthy, and Vidya Rajagopalan /ACT USA.
As part of this year’s grant, 155 fruit-bearing trees were donated and planted in the Coconino National Forest and Phoenix with a few trees that were planted in honorary locations in Sedona visited by Mohanji in April of 2022. Overview of the Project Slide Rock State Park, the original Pendlely homestead and apple farm from 1904, is a part of the apple tradition in Oak Creek Canyon with its original pioneering Orcharist who created engineering feats by tunneling through small portions of the Mountain to direct the water and later developed the first drip system that is still working today. Ranger Hank Vincent shares, the goal of the park is Preservation and is currently involved with Revitalization and Cultivation and the vast maintenance of these 43 acres. Such a rare opportunity and relationship with a caretaker with such a mammoth responsibility has always met with me with trust and humor.
There has been an incredible learning and great strides that have occurred with every donation, especially this one, seeing and understanding how both sides can do things better in learning from this endeavor. The sincerity of these young Rangers doing an impeccable job with these 25 trees (of 4 different heirloom apple varieties) was a sight of pure bliss at how every tree planted has been surrounded by steel stakes and metal fencing and is singing with happiness. They have taken great care of the trees to ensure they reach maturity and have exemplified the meaning of stewardship through “responsibility” by meeting this granted gift halfway providing all the materials and manpower it has taken to get this job done. It has been a great honor to unite the involved Foundations and platforms involved in this rich history of Slide Rock. Orchard Canyon, perhaps the oldest Orchard in the Canyon, is maintained by Rob Lauce, who was in mind as the inspiration for this project and is the mentor of almost every Orcharist in the Valley who keeps trying to retire.
I was so happy to be able to talk him into this project. And it is because of him that this deep intention to honor the Stewards arose. And of course, thanks to him, we were able to create a unique circumstance through this donation because of the history of this Orchard. He suggested that we could do another revitalization in the orchard of this extremely rare Winsap variety and he eventually agreed to make this happen. For us, that would involve extending the timeline of the stipulations of the grant being that the process involved ranges about two and one-half years. From sending the original cuttings to the heirloom tree grower to be hand grafted on rootstock, grown for almost a year, and then harvested to be ready for planting. After discussing with Vidya Rajagopalan of ACT USA, we decided to go forward with this project within the project and that is exactly what has happened. Cuttings were sent in the Autumn of 2022, grafted & grown in 2023, and will be planted in March of 2024. The very definition of a Land and Stewardship grant rests here in this jewel of an orchard as a shining example of craftsmanship. Stepping into this orchard is like entering into another world out of time, like heaven. The trees range from 100’s of years old, with plantings from every twenty years or so, and are deeply rich in the word natural landscape.
On a tour of the property, I was extremely humbled by the great scientific ingenuity it takes to work with nature to create this highly cultivated balance needed for the trees to thrive. Extreme gratitude to Ro bat Orchard Canyon and Neil at Trees of Antiquity for choosing this year’s grant awarding as the vehicle for this historic contribution of 30 hand-grafted original Winesap apple trees that will live and thrive and continue to make the best cider in Arizona. Except for the few treats collected by the bears! At Junipine Resort, the landscape artist and pioneer Sarah Estrada, is developing her style of native wild plant landscaping, mindful water conservation, and composting and is being mentored in fruit tree cultivation with this project. 16 fruit-bearing trees and bushes of a wide variety have been planted and are being cultivated within a wild food garden next to the creek as well as a few planted behind the restaurant encouraging farm to table. Verde Valley School, an International school, nestled in Coconino National Forest behind Cathedral Rock is a historic school from the 1940s. Mike Speilman (Orchardist/Educator) and John Chorlton (Sustainability Director and new Dean) are the coolest guys ever! What an amazing combination of Stewardship from every angle of the community from the people, students, animals, plants, etc. on the property who are great living examples for students to walk with and imbibe. The orchard is everything under the sun with its biodiversity, companion planting, and vast varieties of fruit trees, flowers, and food. Another delightful wonderland to visit that shows what “humans are capable of”.
A wide variety of 50 fruit-bearing trees were donated to the school investing in not only future food sources for the school’s community and animals but in true reciprocity with one of the school’s non-profit partners. An important part of the school’s emphasis is in social service and at least half of the yield from these fruit trees will go to feed underprivileged school children across the Verde Valley through a backpack program that not only ensures the children in need have food in school but also to take home in their backpack over the weekends. Immense gratitude to Mike and John at Verde Valley, Truly Stellar Stewards! Lastly, In gratitude to our partner in Phoenix, John Wann- Angeles, who was instrumental in the acquisition of this year’s grant, partner in our 2022 planting, 30 fruit-bearing trees were planted at The Orchard Community Learning Center in Phoenix. This amazing property rich in its biodiversity on a heat island in Phoenix is thriving with Citrus trees, gardens, composting and experimental inventions in water delivery. Every time I visit this property, there are huge changes, but the one thing that never changes is the immense amount of produce being cultivated and delivered to elderly communities in Phoenix in huge quantities. As a previous principal for several school districts, it’s unbelievable the immense consistency and invention that comes with tremendous adversity in the natural terrain of Phoenix. And not only has this steward been self-taught, but is driving the way for many collaborations for non-profits across Phoenix to feed not only the elderly communities but in educating vegans and providing supplemental food for the community and schools.
Please enjoy here, a few pictures of this documented journey and project! Endless Gratitude to the “True Steward, Mohanji!”