Pilot story and photos by Andrea Barkan

The little stewards of Kalmiopsis Elementary School toured Hastings Smith River Tree Nursery Thursday and learned how the trees they'll soon plant at their land lab are born.

Each of the 26 first-graders is the steward of a plot of land among 160 acres off Highway 101 just south of Thomas Creek Bridge.

First-grade teacher Dan Rotterman said he conceived the little stewards project months after Norma Fitzgerald offered the school district use of her land for school field trips.

During their first trip to the land in October students got acquainted with their plots, took soil samples and made tree bark etchings.

Rotterman said students will visit their land for a second time - and plant Sitka spruce tree saplings from Hastings - before the end of February.

Bill Ross, general manager at Hastings, led the students through the nursery and into a field Thursday.

Ross answered questions and explained where they get their seeds, what types of trees they grow, how the trees grow and what kind of equipment they use.

Hastings' employees harvest trees from 30 acres on and off nursery property.

Ross said the nursery sells between 3 1/2 and 4 million trees each year.

Douglas fir and redwood dominate, but Ross said they also produce other native species such as Sitka spruce and types of hemlock and cedar.

andquot;This area is known for its diversity,andquot; Ross told the children.

Ross said they cultivate conifers from seeds. Many seedlings spend a year in the greenhouse and another year in one of the fields before they are harvested and sold.

Rotterman compared a seedling's journey to a student's journey.

andquot;It's like starting at one school for first grade and going to another school for second grade,andquot; Rotterman told his students.

The children followed Ross into one of the nursery's fields to watch workers harvest redwoods.

andquot;We've seen the whole process from the seed to the plant (to) lifting and processing the plant,andquot; Ross told the children at the tour's end.

Hastings gets about one field trip each year and frequently donates seedlings to schools for special projects, Ross said.

andquot;We like to work with the community as much as possible,andquot; he said.