MMU students plant ‘a sense of place’ in the Natural Area

November 1, 2023
Cat Cutillo
Social Media and Community Content Specialist

Trevien Stanger, Instructor of Environmental Studies and Science at Saint Michael’s College, led 22 students from Mount Mansfield Union (MMU) High School in Jericho into the Saint Michael’s Natural Area on October 31 to plant trees. A second group from MMU of about the same size is scheduled to visit on November 7.

Ecological Restoration Nursery on campus. (Photo by Cat Cutillo)

The 10th graders were part of the high school’s Biology class taught by instructors Sandy Alexander and Mark Keffer. Before walking down to the Natural Area, Stanger stopped on campus by the Ecological Restoration Nursery between Dion and Alliot. He described how the nursery was once all lawn before Saint Michael’s community members created it by laying down cardboard to first kill the grass and later plant the trees. Stanger pointed out red-osier dogwood and willows now planted in the nursery as well as a fascine, a bundle of shrub willows.

“This is amazing technology,” he said, pointing to the fascine. “We’re going to take this to the Natural Area, dig a shallow trench, and plant this so it can sprout and grow.”

Stanger said the group would be trekking to the Natural Area’s Outdoor Classroom to gather trees and gear before heading into the lower fields to plant them. On their way to the Outdoor Classroom, Stanger told the students “We’re all downstream from someone. You live in a watershed. Towns come and go but watersheds are here to stay.”

He said that knowing your watershed is part of knowing who you are.

Outdoor Classroom (Photo by Cat Cutillo)

The group stopped in the Outdoor Classroom and Stanger stood at the white board. He asked the students why farms are in flood plains. Students offered their answers, like those areas are often flat. Stanger agreed and suggested that it’s an area that also has “rich, deep soil.”

Small trees, wheelbarrows, shovels and gear lined the Outdoor Classroom and Stanger asked the students to each carry something. Once each member had their hands full, Stanger led them further into the Natural Area. He stopped to show them a place called a Food Forest and explained this area was a restoration site. Saint Michael’s role was to “assist in the recovery of a damaged ecosystem,” he said. Stanger pointed to the young fruit trees growing and explained, “This is a future orchard. This is a place where they’ll be free vending machines growing out of the soil.”

MMU students walking into the lower fields of the Natural Area (Photo by Cat Cutillo)

“If you take good care of nature, nature takes good care of you,” he said.

He posed a question to the group: What is the difference between a space and a place?

“Everywhere on Earth is a space,” Stanger said.We’re saying we want to make it a place, something that’s meaningful and that we feel connection to.”

The group spent the remainder of their school day doing just that— planting trees and eating lunch in the Natural Area before heading back to Mount Mansfield Union High School. Next week, another busload from MMU will visit again to see the Natural Area and plant trees— an experience that aligns with Saint Michael’s mission to share knowledge not only with students but with the community at-large.

“This kind of work is not only planting a tree, but its planting something about your own sense of place on the Earth,” Stanger said. “The tree you’re going to plant today is going to live for a very long time and probably outlive you if all goes well. There’s something about this act that I hope you feel isn’t only science.”


See a gallery of photos by Cat Cutillo

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