Reflections on Orchard Explorers 2018 – and an Invitation

It is awfully hard to believe that the second season of Orchard Explorers Workshops is coming to a close.  As I sit outside on my back patio soaking up some of this summer’s rather elusive rays of evening sun, I cannot help but smile and feel accomplished in what this season has delivered.

Last season’s pilot program was full of many twists and turns; it nearly transported me back to my first year of teaching! At the conclusion of year one, we were able to gather extremely helpful information from the parents and guardians of our very first Explorers and used it to revamp things for this year.

Some of last year’s Orchard Explorers crew

As we reviewed this input, I was pleased to see that while at times the planning and execution of the program felt like a rollercoaster, we had accomplished our mission. Explorers and their families were learning about the ins and outs of managing our operation, expressed a deeper connection with where their food comes from, and most importantly were making memories together.

For the 2018 workshop season we continued to stay true to our mission and with a new team, I for one had a blast doing it!

Orchard Explorers 2018

There’s a little joke that some people say to me concerning Orchard Explorers. It goes something like this, “Hey Brandon. You know a few years ago when Story Time began, Janell would only have a dozen or so kids on a busy day.”

To clue you in on the significance of that statement, Read ‘n’ Pick Story Time is now a program that spans two days, three time slots a day, and sees hundreds of kids weekly.  Last year for Orchard Explorers a busy week was six or eight kids. This year has been fantastic in that we have averaged between twelve and sixteen Explorers from the ages of six to ten– and they are all troopers considering we encountered just about every type of weather!

 

When considering the origins of this year’s success, I would be a fool not to take time to acknowledge its source. The biggest contributor to our success was the team of professionals we had each week to make the program run smoothly.

First, Ashley Dilda is, in my mind, kind of a super hero! She did a fantastic job melding her understanding of the orchard from when she worked as a student employee years ago to her current role as an adult employee and local mom.

When planning, Ashley always considered what her two adorable daughters would enjoy. She made this season successful by putting time into getting the workshop details set up on Mondays so she could attend on Tuesdays with her girls as a mom and adult Explorer.

Next up, Mr. Colby! Mr. Colby has been a lifelong friend of mine and I admit that because I knew he grew up on a dairy farm in Morgantown I underestimated how much learning he would be doing alongside the Explorers.

I appreciated how from day one he jumped right in and eagerly co-led. Sometimes he even took charge of classes when I was away for a day (or just stuck making homemade essential oil infused playdough that took WAY longer than I anticipated … but I digress).

Mr. Colby’s excitement for understanding our operation with fresh eyes was really refreshing and I had a blast working alongside him!

Lastly, Elizabeth Weaver – our greatest champion and cheerleader.  Elizabeth was involved in getting the program off the ground last year and again this year.  She is a great representative for the program among local families, always connects with parents and guardians during the workshops, and has unparalleled access to Justin Weaver, which would often come in handy for helping us get an extensive understanding of each week’s Fruit Focus.

I am confident that if you are reading this as a parent or guardian of one of our Explorers you are sitting back, just smiling and nodding your head in agreement with my sentiment.

However, if we haven’t had the pleasure of meeting you yet, please come on out for our last week of the season on August 21. Our theme, Orchard Explorers – All Access Pass, is designed as a summation of everything we have covered this year.  We will be taking a tractor ride around the orchard to see some of the more remote locations of our operation that we were only able to mention in the previous weeks. We’ll also be harvesting apples and pressing our own cider and collecting the bounty of our Orchard Explorers Community Garden. While I know I said this is designed as a summation of our summer fun, it could also be a taste of what you and your Explorer-to-be could share together next year if you haven’t yet been able to make it out.

In a world where a plethora of distractions are just around the next corner, attempting to capture our attention, Weaver’s Orchard has been a summer retreat for me the last ten years.  I have had the privilege of working with my cousins and friends, been rejuvenated time and time again opening PYO when it is just me, the birds, and a breeze in the mornings, watched kids go from swaddled up baby to third grader in the Read N’ Pick Story Time, and come to the conclusion that all teachers should be gardeners because plants don’t talk back when you “correct” them here at Our Orchard!

This post was designed to be a review of the Orchard Explorer Program, which it is, but it is also a review of my tenure here.  I have found family, friends, joy, and the beauty of Creation among these trees (oh, and brambles, vines, shrubs, and bushes…).

Next year will look different for me as my wife and I are expecting our first daughter in December.  It’s funny how things like that will change your perspective. I know I won’t be working 30 hour weeks, but I’m not ready to say goodbye to the relationships I have made with the greater orchard family.

So here’s my invitation: Come on out with your own Explorer next week or next year.  Know that you are in good hands with a crew of people who love each other, love where we work, and are ultimately blessed getting to be part of you making memories with your children.

I would love to have you and share the orchard with you.

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