As the Forestry Projects Senior Manager at TreePeople, I have the privilege to see firsthand the changes that tree planting and tree care events make in the lives of volunteer participants. I love watching the joy that comes over them when they step back and see the difference they’ve made. Over time, they realize that a tree is not only a lasting physical change but a living memento that constantly reminds them of their participation in and commitment to their community.
TreePeople’s strategy is to show people the difference they can make in their communities, both socially and environmentally, by coming together and pooling their energy and resources to plant and care for trees. This is even more important when working with children, as you’ll see in the video below from a recent tree planting event we did with Treeium at Hubbard Street Elementary School. Our goal at Hubbard was to impress upon children the importance of this work, make it a regular part of their lives, and change their perception not only of community but of nature in the city — not as an outsider to urban areas but as a necessary and healing part of the urban fabric.
The urban forest is so called, because it isn’t like a normal forest — trees don’t just spring forth from the soil of their own accord. Because the systems of nature that exist in the forest have been broken in urban areas, we need to meet nature halfway by not only planting new trees but caring for them to encourage healthy trees that will become the mature canopy of tomorrow. And a tree is that rare thing that only gets more beautiful and more valuable as it ages. Every tree is a living, breathing investment that pays back more every year.
This makes me think of the oft-quoted Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” This is, more or less, the idea behind our strategy: if we can get today’s younger generation started right now planting trees, then 20 years from now we’ll have created a much different landscape, and the problem at the heart of the proverb — not having the forethought to plan for a greener future — won’t be as much of an issue. We’ll have a much better balance of trees planted at the best second-best times, and we’ll have the motivated communities in place to ensure those trees continue to be as healthy as possible, providing as many benefits as possible.