For the past 31 years, the Ottawa Soil and Water Conservation District has distributed blue spruce seedlings to every fourth grader in Ottawa County. On average, 400 students have participated each year in planting the tiny trees.
Decades later, the thousands of Earth Day babies have grown tall, and can be found all around Ottawa County.
The blue spruce program started in 1990 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Earth Day, and has taken place every year since, other than 2020 due to Covid-19.
This program could not take place without the partnership of the local Future Farmers of America (FFA) youth groups. Each spring high school students take time to pack all of the trees to be given to fourth graders, making them ready to plant. These Ottawa County students are more than happy to help as they all remember receiving “their” tree while they were in fourth grade.
Along with planting a tree, fourth graders learn all about the history of Earth Day and discuss different ways that they can celebrate the Earth and do something to help clean it up on April 22. This year, before receiving their tree, students watched a video featuring Becky Simpson, Ottawa County Soil and Water District educator, highlighting Earth Day and giving instructions on how to plant their tree.
In the video, Simpson dropped off trees to St Boniface Elementary School students in Oak Harbor during the the Catholic School’s recess, and the students couldn’t wait to take them home and plant them, said Simpson.
Simpson is the driving force for bringing conservation into the classroom and educating the next generation of land stewards.
The blue spruce seedlings are generally 4 to 8 inches in height. While they grow slow and straight, often farmed to become Christmas trees, they are known to live 600 to 800 years, and generally can reach a height of 65 to 115 feet at maturity, with a diameter of 2 to 3 feet. They have a narrow, pyramidal shape and cone-shaped crown.