Nonprofit celebrates 15 years of free trees in San Jose

By Tiffany Carney
San Jose, CA (April 17, 2009)- The basics are simple: dig a hole, insert a free tree, cover with dirt, and water- anyone can do it. Our City Forest has made a successful nonprofit organization based on teaching that process. With the help of the community, the group has planted more than 50,000, 5-gallon trees throughout the city of San Jose since 1994 as part of its push to create an “urban forest.”

Group founder Rhonda Berry describes the organization as a “one-stop shop for plantings,” but says it also provides an array of other forestry services including free trees, supplies, technical assistance, tree consultations and pruning. Hundreds of volunteers including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, high school clubs, corporate groups, and various community members have participated in its programs. This month, the group is gearing up to celebrate its 15th anniversary as part of its Earth Day Green Fair events on April 18 at Treehouse in the Glen, 1275 Suite 2, Lincoln Avenue.
Some say it takes a village to raise a child. Those at Our City Forest say the same is true for planting a tree. The group encourages the community to be part of the tree-planting process-the more volunteers, the better. “The goal has always been to engage as many people as possible from all walks of life,” said Berry, a longtime Willow Glen resident.
The process is simple, Berry said. A group makes a request for trees, obtains the proper applications and permits from the city and then schedules a group planting. The Tree Amigos, the group’s trained volunteer coaches, come out to each event to conduct free tree-planting demonstrations and provide assistance.
Jason Klawitter, a West San Jose resident and president of the Hathaway Park Association who helped organize the first tree-planting in his neighborhood, said the event was about more than adding greenery to the street. “The tree-planting event we had at Hathaway Park really helped us to come together as an organization,” Klawitter said. “There was so much positive energy working with [Our City Forest]; teaming up with them just made a spectacular event for us.” The group planted 10 trees at that first event, and members are now preparing to hold their third tree-planting event.
Community involvement doesn’t stop at the end of the tree-planting. Those responsible for adding a tree are also responsible for “adopting” it. After the planting, volunteers must care for the tree for three years with a specific tree-care plan developed by Our City Forest. Volunteers are responsible for watering the tree and any additional maintenance, including pruning.
Our City Forest also aims to educate the public about the benefits of trees and the importance of cultivating a healthy urban ecology. The group spreads the word that a healthy urban forest can prevent flooding, save energy and provide clean water and air. While the Tree Amigos educate the community at each planting, the organization has two other outreach programs: Planet Tree and Green and Healthy.
Planet Tree is the program that partners trained volunteers with San Jose schools to educate students about the benefits of trees and the importance of proper maintenance. Last year, Our City Forest was called upon to help Country Lane Elementary School in the West San Jose area replace a tree knocked over in a storm. Two trees were planted at the event with help from student Cornerstone Leadership group on campus. The students took ownership of the trees and now assist in the watering three times each week.
Another program, Green and Healthy, is geared toward schools and neighborhoods. Through the newly launched program, “Green Amigos” volunteers educate people about eating healthy and how to grow fruit trees. The Green Amigos started their training April 1 and plan to extend their public workshops to the general public in upcoming weeks.
A No. 1 Priority When Berry first formed the organization, she wanted to engage the community and encourage volunteers to add to and maintain San Jose’s urban forest. In 1989, neighboring cities had nonprofit organizations to assist in the upkeep of the trees in public places, but San Jose did not have such a program.
Berry went before city council and urged it to make the urban forest a priority. The city council approved a plan to create a nonprofit group to put that action into place. “It was part of that goal that the council approved seed funding, no pun there, to allow for the creation of a nonprofit,” Berry said. She was hired as the contractor, and Our City Forest was born. Berry describes it as a win-win situation. “The city needed urban forestry funding and we, as a nonprofit, were able to bring in revenue,” she said.
Related Resources:
Our City Forest
San Jose Mercury News- Nonprofit celebrates 15 years of free trees in San Jose