“Good soil is dark brown,” explained Kiera Kelley (in photo) to the small group gathered around her. “There shouldn’t be too much clay in it.”
It was only her second week as an urban forestry intern, but 17-year-old Kelley was already teaching college students how to plant trees.
The lesson took place on Thursday afternoon at the Holocaust Memorial on Whalley Avenue. Kelley and the other tree-planting instructors, ages 14 to 20, are summer interns for Solar Youth, an environmental education group based in West Rock.
The Solar Youth interns did some planting around the memorial walls—their second major project of the summer—as they awaited the arrival of their “students”: a group of about eight interns from Yale’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics. The lesson was arranged by Rachel Holmes, the Solar Youth intern coordinator, and Cintra Agee, a seminar leader for the bioethics center. The two met as students at Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Science.
Once the bioethicists arrived, the Solar Youth teens jumped into teacher mode.
“Do you know anything about planting trees?” one asked. “Any experience?”
Her question was met with looks of uncertainty from the newcomers. Kelley and the others gave a step-by-step explanation, which was then carried out by both groups of interns:
First, “turf” the ground—that is, break the topsoil and dig down a few inches.
Before digging any further, check the soil to for quality. If it’s brown and doesn’t have too much clay, then get digging.
Finally, lug the tree (in this case, a kousa dogwood) into the hole.
In between shovelfuls, Agee, the bioethics seminar leader, explained why she pulled her students out of the classroom for the afternoon.
“We’re talking about environmental ethics, so how could we never get our hands in the dirt? That wouldn’t make sense,” she said. “This a great symbiosis between [learning and doing].”
Bioethics intern Ashley Carter, who had never before planted a tree, philosophized about the significance of natural plantings around a person-made memorial.
“We’ve talked [in the seminar] about how we tend to make nature into something anthropocentric,” Carter said. But she noted that the New Haven Holocaust memorial complements, rather than overshadows, the trees and plants surrounding it.
The bioethics students weren’t the only ones who learned something on Thursday afternoon. Several of the Solar Youth interns said they hadn’t known that the austere metal structure at the corner of Whalley and West Park Avenue is a memorial to Holocaust victims.
“I’ve driven by, and I never knew what this was,” said Kelley. “Now when I drive by, I’ll check on the tree we just put up.”