Approval of urban farm in Detroit sparks controversy yet offers promise

In September I wrote about Detroit, Michigan, and a new campaign to repurpose vacant parcels of land into urban farmland and revitalize the local ecosystem.

According to the New York Times, entrepreneur John Hantz offered to purchase 140 acres of abandoned land in Detroit to clear the empty lots of debris and plant roughly 15,000 hardwood trees. Hantz and his colleagues have said their plans for the land will increase economic activity, raise property values and add to the city’s tax base.

Support for this method of repurposing some of Detroit’s vacant lots is mixed.  Many agree that urban farming would diversify the city and be a more beneficial use of the land space, which currently supports foreclosed homes and crumbling buildings.  But some residents and city officials view the transaction as a land grab that Hantz will use for his own benefit.

Nevertheless, on December 11, the Detroit City Council approved the sale of the land to Hantz in a 5-4 vote.

A website developed to detail Hantz’s proposal states his intentions to transform blight to beauty, convert abandoned properties to fields for new agricultural production, create jobs and strengthen the city’s budget.  Hantz has witnessed the deterioration of Detroit over the years and says he wants his farm to not only be used for agricultural production, but also as an open area the community can experience and appreciate.

Additionally, Hantz plans to plant trees and encourage neighbors to enjoy their beauty and learn about the importance of urban trees, including how they can be used as a sustainable and profitable resource.

Photo taken from City Farm, a successful urban farm located in Chicago

Although it remains to be seen how the land will be developed, community participation will be important for the overall success of this project.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture advocates that active involvement from area residents  in projects like these is key to building an empowered, successful and more satisfied community.

Through its Tree City USA and Tree Line USA programs, the Arbor Day Foundation understands the positive impact urban forestry has on cities worldwide and therefore sees the potential benefits Hantz’s urban farm can have in the community.  There is significant promise in Detroit’s effort to build a new, green economy.

Real Christmas trees offer economical, environmental and social benefits

Christmas trees have had a long history in the United States, beginning in the 1800s when they were introduced by German settlers.

Since then, Christmas trees have become a major commercial industry. But, in recent years, more and more families are facing a dilemma between purchasing a real or artificial Christmas tree.

Photo Credit: ChooseAndCut.com

The National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) approximates that nearly 25-30 million live Christmas trees are sold every year.  However, according to the Wall Street Journal, consumers will spend about $1 billion on artificial trees that primarily come from overseas.

Real Christmas trees, in comparison, are grown at Christmas tree farms in all 50 states, contributing not only to local state economies, but also helping keep family farms from being converted to other uses.

Many people are under the mistaken assumption that fake trees are more environmentally responsible than chopping down live trees, which is simply not the case.  According to NCTA, “Artificial trees contain non-biodegradable plastics and possible metal toxins such as lead.”

Photo Credit: BellyAcresNJ.com

As the Arbor Day Foundation points out in its November-December newsletter, fresh cut Christmas trees are a renewable, recyclable and sustainable resource that sequesters carbon and helps clean the air while protecting soil and wildlife habitat.  For every Christmas tree harvested, NCTA says 1-3 new seedlings for the following spring are planted, estimating that presently there are close to 350 million real Christmas trees being grown at U.S. Christmas tree farms.

Photo Credit: KVBPR.com

Along with the many environmental and economical benefits, real Christmas trees also offer the social benefits of a memorable holiday tradition, introducing young children to nature, and encouraging family togetherness. Many Christmas tree farms even offer wagon rides, refreshments and other attractions to make the experience of selecting the perfect Christmas tree for your family unforgettable.

If you would like to find the Christmas tree farm closest to you, you can visit NCTA’s Tree Locator tool.

For more information about real Christmas trees such as selection, care, and recycling tips please visit NCTA’s website.

Greening of Detroit singles out potential for urban trees to revitalize local ecosystem

The environment is playing a significant role in the resurgence of Detroit and Rebecca Salminen Witt, president of the nonprofit agency, Greening of Detroit, is a big part of the movement.

Greening’s mission statement has evolved over the years from specifically addressing replanting needs, to addressing the various needs of Detroit’s ecosystem.  The Greening of Detroit has filled several needs by creating planting and educational programs and encouraging environmental leadership and advocacy in the area.

In a recent interview with the Detroit Free Press, Witt explains that Greening’s forestry department has progressed to a green infrastructure department.  “Tree planting obviously is always going to be at the heart of what [this department] does,” stated Witt, “but they’re looking much more broadly at the ecosystem services that trees and forestry can provide, and they’re doing a lot of other things as well.”

Photo Credit: Greening of Detroit

The Greening of Detroit has broadened its methods from “classic tree planting,” to planting that will better utilize  the benefits of every tree; such as planting for stormwater retention and planting large, dense blocks of trees to remediate soil contamination.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted a new campaign for Detroit to repurpose vacant parcels of land into urban farmland.  Rebecca Witt is enthusiastic and prepared for the Greening of Detroit to take on similar opportunities for securing Detroit’s ecosystem, asserting:

That’s a pretty incredible thing to be able to think of a major American city that really could have an ecosystem that could support itself and all of its people in a way that is sustainable for the long term.

Some potential plans for Detroit include planting oak trees and maybe fruit orchards.

The Arbor Day Foundation avidly promotes the intrinsic benefits of urban trees. The work going on in Detroit isolates the potential of urban trees to revitalize a struggling community and establish a sustainable industry.

The Arbor Day Foundation agrees with research that explains the benefits of trees for stormwater retention. Rain refreshes and nourishes green landscape.  But as cities grow and tree cover is lost, so is the absorbing effect of plant life and soil.  Trees and vegetated infrastructure prevent costly stormwater runoff from polluting waterways with oil, heavy metal particles and other harmful substances.

Click here for a visual depiction of a city water system with few trees, and one with abundant trees.

Nonprofits like the Greening of Detroit are making huge impact and filling the inherent need for effective urban forestry tree planting and environmental care in communities nationwide.

J. Sterling Morton 2011 Winner

2011 National Arbor Day Awards

J. Sterling Morton Award Dr. Anne Hallum

Anne Hallum of the Alliance for International Reforestation (A.I.R) in DeLand, Fla., was presented with the J. Sterling Morton Award, the highest honor given by the Arbor Day Foundation. Hallum founded her nonprofit organization to help people in Guatemala by establishing a better, more sustainable quality of life through tree-planting. The Morton Award is named after J. Sterling Morton, who founded Arbor Day in 1872. Under Hallum’s direction and guidance, the Alliance for International Reforestation has been educating residents in Guatemala and Nicaragua since 1993, working with 25 to 30 villages at a time, each for a period of five years. The staff (all native residents) educates indigenous volunteers about proper tree-planting and agroforestry that will provide sustainable farming as well as protection from frequent and dangerous mudslides. Through proper tree-planting, mountainside erosion is controlled and mudslides are avoided during the harshest of storms. The native trees planted by local volunteers and farmers help preserve important forests, which have a tremendous impact on the villages. These trees improve nutrition for people and livestock, provide animal habitat, clean the air, protect local water, supply firewood, shade homes and fertilize crops. A.I.R. has worked with more than 110 villages in rural Guatemala and Nicaragua, adding more than 3.7 million trees to the region’s rain forest.

View Award Video for Dr. Anne Hallum 

2011 Arbor Day Award Winners

The day after National Arbor Day our annual Arbor Day awards banquet takes place.   The National Arbor Day Awards are a chance to highlight people across the world that are making a difference through trees.  For the next few weeks we are going to take an in-depth look at the 2011 Award Winners. 

But first I wanted to share with all of you the opening remarks from the founder and CEO of the Arbor Day Foundation, John Rosenow.   

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”

I think Emerson was speaking of the power of intention.  The good people we honor tonight, these Arbor Day Award winners, clearly made their decisions, and sent their intentions out to the universe — backed up with large doses of hard work and collaboration and love.

The results have included the planting of thousands and thousands and thousands of trees—and the triumph of the human spirit.

Read more…

Happy Arbor Day 2011

Friday is National Arbor Day.  Although many states such as California, Maryland, Missouri, and Oregon have already celebrated Arbor Day, today is the nationally recognized tree planting holiday of Arbor Day. The original Arbor Day was celebrated April 10th, 1872 in Nebraska.  A day where an estimated 1 million trees were planted by individuals and counties in Nebraska.

I am curious what are you doing this Arbor Day to continue this 140 year old tradition? 

The Bradford Pear: Is It The Right Tree For You?

The Bradford Pear, Pyrus Calleryana, is native to Korea and China but gained popularity as an ornamental tree here in the US since the 1960s. Recently, however, the popularity of the Bradford Pear has been on the wane due to its structural weakness and subsequent splitting. Knowing about the advantages and disadvantages of the Bradford Pear will help you to decide if it is the right tree for you, or if you would be better off choosing another ornamental species.

  The Bradford Pear is Not For You If…

  • You mind the somewhat rank odor of the flowers and the mess the fruit makes
  • You are looking for a strong tree that lasts years and years. The Bradford Pear suffers from a weak structure that causes the tree to split if laden with snow or beaten by the wind.
  • You are looking for a tree with a deep root system. The Bradford Pear has very shallow roots and grows suckers that need taming regularly.

The Bradford Pear is For You if….

  • You want a fast growing tree that flowers early in spring
  • You are looking for rich autumn color (reds) and white spring blossoms
  • You want to attract birds to nest in the tree and eat the fruit
  • You are prepared to prune carefully to make up for the weak structure

Popular Alternatives to the Bradford Pear

The Japanese Zelkova is another colorful tree that will complement your property. It is very tolerant to wind, drought and air pollution and provides a good amount of shade. It is great as a yard or street tree due to its attractive vase-like profile and can double its height in 4-6 years.

The Red Maple will bring year-round red color to your yard and display deep scarlet leaves in the fall. Also a fast-growing tree, it can grow anywhere and provides a good amount of shade. The Red Maple is a popular landscape tree which produces flower and fruit in the spring before most other species.

The Chinese Pistache is a popular ornamental tree that is very long-lasting and has a very hard wood. It is deep rooted, drought-resistant and, very importantly, disease and insect-free. It grows 2-3 feet a year into a medium-sized shady tree with spectacular fall colors.

3 Little Giants

Some plants classified by the experts as “shrubs” are often thought of as “trees” by the general populace. And while the experts employ technical definitions to make the distinction, even they admit that there are exceptions to the rules that they come up with, rendering their definitions less than completely satisfying.

Further clouding the issue is the age-old debate of whether we should classify something according to its intrinsic qualities or how it is used by humans. The uses for a landscape plant such as rose of sharon include mass usage in a hedge to form a privacy screen and individual usage as a specimen plant.

Read more…

What is Your Favorite Tree

Recently on our Facebook Fan Page I asked the question, Do you have a favorite tree? I thought I would extend that offer to you.

What’s Your Favorite Tree and Why?

ADF Blog photo

New iPhone App Makes it Easy to Identify North American Trees

The Arbor Day Foundation has developed a new application to make identifying trees even easier for iPhone and iPod Touch users.

 The new application is called Arbor Day Tree Identification Guide: What Tree Is That?, and it’s based on the Arbor Day Foundation’s acclaimed tree identification guide, What Tree Is That? The new application is simple to use helps people identify the species of trees in just minutes. By identifying a few basic characteristics of a tree, such as leaf size and shape and branch structure, iPhone users will be able to determine what type of tree is in their backyard, neighborhood, city park or just about anywhere.

  Read more…