by Chrissy Zehrbach
Stepping through the gates and into the orange grove at Heritage Park is like taking a step back into the history of the City of La Verne.
Once over the bridge, a tractor full of smiling children passes by the Weber House and disappears into the fruit-filled trees. It reappears on the other side of the barn where children are squeezing their own orange juice.
For the past two weeks, children from the area have been doing just that with the Spring Squeeze, an annual return to La Verne’s roots.
In its fourth year, the Spring Squeeze hosts up to 200 children a day, from 9 a.m. to noon.
“We started out very small; We now have over 1,000 children coming through this year,” said Robin Molina, president and event coordinator for the Heritage Foundation, which puts on the Spring Squeeze. “What we’re trying to do is give the children a piece of La Verne’s past and teach them you don’t just go to the store to get oranges, you pick them. They learn about what living on a farm was like back in the 1800s.”
Approximately eight volunteers with the Heritage Foundation lead the children through the tour of the park.
“It’s quite educational in many ways,” said Billie McClure, a six-year volunteer. “The kids love coming out here.”
Each tour begins with a tractor ride through the orange grove. The orange grove is authentic, one of the only still remaining in La Verne.
“We’re losing our orange trees and orchards. We just don’t have them like we used to,” said Lee Markoski, a third-year volunteer.
“To start it all off, the kids really get a kick out of having the tractor ride,” said Bonnie Brunel, director of the board.
The ride also takes them past the barn, the smudge pots that used to keep the oranges from freezing, and the windmill that still pumps water.
“I think it’s wonderful. When you see from blossom to orange the children get the hands on experience,” said Valerie Talavera, a student of the Tri Community Adult Education program from West Covina who attended with her two daughters, Rebeca, 2, and Ayla, 1.
“When the students can actually taste a fresh squeezed orange it gives them a better idea of nature from the tree to the kitchen table. It’s an enriching experience and it’s very important,” she said.
The children also learn about the process of picking oranges and where they go once they leave the grove.
“The branches are low enough they can just reach up and pull on it. If it’s ripe it will come off,” Markoski said.
The tour would not be complete without fresh squeezed orange juice. Each child gets to make and enjoy its own orange juice.
“Daddy I did it!” said four-year-old Devin Moore, of the Village Montessori Academy in Diamond Bar as he made his juice. “It tastes good.”
The children save half of their orange peels for craft time in the barn.
They plant flowers inside the peel that they can then plant in the ground. The peel serves as the fertilizer.
For just $5 per child, the Spring Squeeze is open for school field trips and Mommy and Me classes, Molina said.
Not only schools from the La Verne area, but also schools from surrounding areas like Diamond Bar, Rancho Cucamonga, Chino, Baldwin Park and Walnut enjoy the back to the roots experience.
“It gives them the opportunity to broaden their horizon, and also to socialize out of their norm,” said Charles Moore, father of four-year-old Devin. “How often do you get an opportunity to look at orange groves or make orange juice?”
“For children who don’t get to see the outdoors because of the rush of life, it’s something to bring them to,” Markoski said.