LAWRENCE — Holding a tree with one hand and throwing soil from the hole in the ground with the other, Rico Montenegro made a basin for the tree's roots.
So began the first planting of 15 apple, pear and cherry trees at the corner of East Haverhill and Elm streets yesterday.
"I think they will do very well here because there's good lighting and decent soil," said Montenegro, shielding his eyes from the sun.
Groundwork Lawrence won the trees from The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation after that organization held an online contest.
"We plant these trees today with the intent that they will bear fruit to help feed those in need of fresh food in the city," said Heather McCann of Groundwork Lawrence.
"The Bodwell Orchard helps recall a time when Lawrence was dominated by orchards and agricultural fields and establishes a strong historic connection to Lawrence's historical past, of which the Bodwell family played a prominent role" McCann said. "It also supports the city's newest immigrants, many of whom have agricultural background."
During the ceremony, Mark Schorr, director of the Robert Frost Foundation, read the poem, "Tree at My Window," which Frost started writing while living in Lawrence and finished at his farm in Derry, N.H. Alcira Kane of Neighborhood Legal Services, read a translation of the poem in Spanish.
The ceremony was attended by residents of the North Common neighborhood, politicians, local leaders, members of the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence, and students from Notre Dame, Central Catholic and Lawrence high schools helped plant the trees.
"It feels good to give back to the community and help others," said Jose Casado, a freshman at Central Catholic.
Others like Gary Yancey and Vic Velez, both seniors at Notre Dame High School, talked about the fruits the trees will bear.
"I can come here in a few years and say, 'This apple grew because of me,'" said Yancey.
Montenegro of The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation in California said the trees can produce fruit in three to four years once they are strong enough to hold the weight. The trees, Montenegro said, can live up to 200 years.
Linda Zimmerman, director of Neighbors in Need, a group that distributes food through eight pantries in Lawrence and Methuen, applauds the efforts in getting the orchard.
"Any program that brings healthy food into the city is a great thing. It's a statement to being committed to bringing fresh food back," she said.
Ana Rodriguez, who lives diagonally across from the orchard, agrees.
"I love to plant and I like the idea that we can have a tree where we can come and get healthy fruit," she said. "It will bring the neighbors together and we can take care of the place."
Ruben Santana, whose house abuts the orchard, also is thrilled.
"They planted a cherry tree next to my house just like I wanted," he said.
The orchard's location is significant, said McCann of Groundwork Lawrence. The site is where the city's first house and its famous elm tree once stood. According to legend, a tree, known as the Bodwell elm, was planted at the birth of Henry Bodwell III in 1729. In the 1920s, the tree was 150 feet high and the trunk was 15 feet in circumference. The house was razed in the 1950s and the elm was cut down. A park was built on the site.
McCann said the orchard is part of the Neighborhood Community Gardens Initiative funded by a Massachusetts PARC grant to build four community gardens for the 2011 growing season.
So far, McCann said Groundwork Lawrence has planted close to 550 trees throughout the city.
She said the agency will plant an additional 50 trees next spring as part of its GreenStreets program, which provides trees to homeowners who will care for them.
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