Living Cherry Orchard

Integration and Environmental Education Hand in Hand

von Theresa Schmidt

Foto: Lebendiger Kirschberg
Photo: Lebendiger Kirschberg

A small community in the north of Hessen has come up with a big idea. The village of Lindenstruth is currently setting up a Living Cherry Orchard, a nature trail through the forest and the neighbouring cherry and meadow orchards, designed to help integrate refugees and people with mental illnesses into the village community through education and encounters.

Four partners are working in close cooperation on the project: the Martinsheim, a care centre for people with mental illnesses and disabilities, the gardening association Obst- und Gartenbauverein Lindenstruth (OGV), the Sternschnuppe kindergarten and Gießen local council, which runs refugee homes in Lindenstruth. Heike Grouls is the head of the day programme at the Martinsheim and initiated the project. “Our common goal is education for sustainable development. But the best thing is that the cooperation brings about natural contacts between people,” she says. Since the beginning of the year, clients from the Martinsheim, kindergarten children and residents of the refugee home have been coming together every Wednesday to work on the nature trail – with pickaxes, saws and spades, each one doing what they can. Many children from the asylum-seekers’ home now attend the Sternschnuppe kindergarten. “Their parents have also been encouraged to work on the trail,” says Grouls. The project has received part-funding from the EU’s LEADER programme since November, and 800 metres of the nature trail are already finished. At a ceremony at the end of May, a barefoot path, a forest relax lounge and a kitchen garden were opened. The explanation signs along the trail were made by newcomers and clients from the Martinsheim – and are written in German and Arabic.

Foto: Lebendiger Kirschberg
Photo: Lebendiger Kirschberg

In addition to the weekly meetings, there are also regular “encounter days”. These learning events and gatherings have the motto “Get out into nature” and are designed to raise awareness of the environment for all those involved and to bring the village community together. Activities range from baking bread to trimming hedges; the cherry festival on 8 July will celebrate everything cherry. “Everyone can contribute something here – we even had a soapstone artist at the opening ceremony,” says Heike Grouls, who organizes the events along with Manfred Gössl from OGV.

Foto: Lebendiger Kirschberg
Photo: Lebendiger Kirschberg

Experiencing nature together, with all our senses – that’s the project’s philosophy. “Working in nature also helps deal with trauma,” Heike Grouls knows from experience. Weeding, planting and building help not only refugees, but also clients from the Martinsheim feel more relaxed, she says, and get into conversation. Integration and environmental education really do go hand in hand.