Project ReLeaf Tree Sale

(St. Louis, MO)- Forest ReLeaf, through its Project ReLeaf tree sale program, offers large-caliper quality trees at a reduced cost to municipalities, schools, churches, parks, nonprofits and neighborhood groups. Since its inception in 1994, Project ReLeaf has provided more than 29,000 low-cost trees for planting on public or nonprofit land throughout Missouri and southern Illinois.



Category: Program Model, Earned Income
OVERVIEW
In addition to increasing the affordability of trees for public and nonprofit groups, Project ReLeaf has increased the diversity of species available to local groups with an emphasis on native species and utility-friendly trees.
Project ReLeaf is also a valuable source of earned income for Forest ReLeaf. In 2006, Project ReLeaf grossed more than $57,000 and netted over $10,600, which allows the organization to grow its budget and support other programs.
BACKGROUND
Established in 1993, Forest ReLeaf of Missouri’s mission is “to provide trees for public and not-for-profit plantings and present educational programs to promote stewardship of the trees and forests in Missouri and other communities in the region.”
In addition to Project ReLeaf, Forest ReLeaf operates a number of other tree planting and education efforts:
Project CommuniTree, a volunteer-assisted nursery which cares for seedlings until they are ready to be distributed to individuals and groups for planting on public or nonprofit properties in the region
Priority ReLeaf, which raises corporate and foundation donations for high-need planting projects in underserved communities and schools
TreeKeepers, which teaches volunteers tree identification, care and maintenance and provides opportunities to become involved in community projects.
Missouri Forestkeepers Network, a statewide network of more than 1,900 volunteers which works to protect, sustain and enhance Missouri’s forest resources through advocacy, monitoring and management.
Anti-Topping Campaign, the statewide “Experts Agree: Don’t Top Your Tree” a public service campaign in cooperation with the Missouri Forestry Council.
Since its inception, Forest ReLeaf, which has a staff of three and relies heavily on volunteer efforts, has distributed more than 76,000 trees.
Project ReLeaf
Shortly after it was established, Forest ReLeaf realized that the existing inventory of trees locally available for sale to public and nonprofit groups was too limited and expensive to meet the demand for large, sturdy native species needed for public spaces. Forest ReLeaf then researched regional growers to find ones that could provide park-quality trees at a reduced price.
Forest ReLeaf currently works with just one grower in Tennessee who provides a wide variety of park-quality trees at a fraction of the wholesale cost.
In the beginning, there was some concern that area landscape and nursery associations might view Project ReLeaf as competing with its members. However, this issue never materialized. Nancy von Brecht, Forest ReLeaf Executive Director, says since Project ReLeaf sells park-grade trees that are 1.25″ caliper only twice a year, it does not truly compete with the selling of large landscape trees. Moreover, many of the association members are also associates of Forest ReLeaf and strongly support its mission. Forest ReLeaf is a member of these associations and they at times promote each other’s educational programs.
COMPONENTS
Tree Selection/ Catalog
Project ReLeaf staff talks with the grower by phone to determine inventory and price. Forest ReLeaf’s Forestry Programs Manager meets with the grower twice a year to inspect the growing stock. Based on the results of these calls and meetings, Forest ReLeaf publishes a catalog with species, sizes and prices. The catalog is mailed in January and in August, with order deadlines in February and September.
Trees are selected for the catalog based on demand, on which species are currently available (and healthy) and on which varieties have thrived in the past in public spaces. Over time, Forest ReLeaf has found that certain species simply do not do well in urban areas.
The grower’s price depends on the species, availability and demand for the species. Forest ReLeaf adds an administrative cost to this.
The Spring 2008 catalog offers 46 varieties of trees
in two size classes; balled and burlapped trees by height or balled and burlapped listed by caliper. Heights listed range from four to six feet and caliper size is 1.25″. Trees that are 1.25″ caliper are typically eight to 10 feet in height.
In keeping with its mission “to plant the right tree in the right place”, Forest ReLeaf’s catalog denotes which trees are native species and which are appropriate for planting under utility lines. In addition, the catalog includes more detailed information on avoiding tree and utility conflicts.
Forest ReLeaf’s Forestry Programs Manager is available to assist customers with choosing what trees will work best in the space they have available.
Orders must be pre-paid and trees must be picked up at CommuniTree Gardens, Forest ReLeaf’s community nursery. There is no minimum or maximum order size. Typically 30 to 40 groups purchase trees each year through Project ReLeaf.
Customers are required to state in writing that they have permission to plant on the public or nonprofit land they have selected (including utility permission if needed), that they will correctly install the plant in a location suitable for the species chosen and that they will provide ongoing maintenance such as watering and mulching.
Tree Distribution
Trees are distributed in April and November from Forest ReLeaf’s community nursery. On average, the program sells about 1,600 trees annually. Coordinating the delivery and distribution of this volume of large trees requires careful logistical planning.
On the day the trees are delivered from the grower, Forest ReLeaf utilizes a large network of its partners, including the Missouri Department of Conservation, local utilities, local municipalities and forestry groups to unload, tag and sort the trees by species. On moving day, the organization and these physically-strong volunteers use equipment such as Bobcats to make the job easier. Forest ReLeaf is fortunate to own a Bobcat as well as having partners that lend it machines and operators for the day. Many of the volunteers have forestry backgrounds, which is extremely helpful when sorting and labeling the trees.
Customers are scheduled to pick-up their orders one week after the trees are set to be delivered from Tennessee. The one-week time difference is built in to allow for flexibility in case there are delivery delays. Again, physically-strong volunteers and equipment are needed. In 2006, approximately 35 volunteers devoted nearly 250 hours to Project ReLeaf.
Forest ReLeaf stresses the importance of having adequate space for delivery, storage and pick-up of the trees – not only for the trees themselves, but also for the trucks needed for loading and unloading. In addition, it is important to have water available for the trees for the week between delivery and final pick-up.
Marketing
The Project ReLeaf catalog is mailed twice a year to more than 900 potential customers. In addition, Forest ReLeaf emails updates and deadline reminders to this same group. The catalog is also available on Forest ReLeaf’s website, www.moreleaf.org.
Since the program has been in existence for almost 15 years, it has a large number of repeat customers and benefits from substantial word-of-mouth publicity. Moreover, Forest ReLeaf’s many partners help market the program through their networks. It is further promoted through the area’s active forestry councils.
Budget and Staffing
The 2006 budget for Project ReLeaf was $46,500 of which about approximately $36,000 went toward tree purchases. Other expenses including staff time, publishing and mailing the catalog, travel costs, nursery supplies, fuel costs and food for volunteers totaled approximately $10,500.
Forest ReLeaf has three staff members, all of whom devote some portion of their time to Project ReLeaf.
RESULTS
Since 1994, Forest ReLeaf has distributed more than 29,000 trees through Project ReLeaf to public and nonprofit organizations. The number of trees annually sold range from 1,000 to 3,400. In 2006, Project ReLeaf distributed 1,147 trees.
In addition to increasing the number of trees available at a low cost to public and nonprofit groups, Project ReLeaf has expanded the diversity of species available and boosted the number of native and utility-friendly varieties planted in the region.
In 2006, gross revenue from Project ReLeaf was over $57,000. After expenses of approximately $46,500, Forest ReLeaf netted approximately $10,600 from the program. The gross revenue represented 16% in earned income for the organization’s budget that year – a figure that impresses funders and other supporters.
Another major benefit of the program has been the strong sense of community and opportunity for networking that the project has afforded Forest ReLeaf and its partners.
LESSONS LEARNED
1. Partnerships with local municipalities, utilities, forestry groups and nonprofits are vital to making this project successful. Project ReLeaf has benefited significantly from in-kind donations and volunteer labor from its partners as well as additional technical expertise.
2. Developing a good relationship with a grower is essential. Look for a grower who shares your organization’s values. This is important not only in determining the quality of the inventory, but also in establishing how the trees will be harvested, packaged and delivered.
3. It is important to have someone on staff with technical expertise when selecting, caring for and distributing the trees. Trees can suffer serious damage when being transported. It is critical to have staff aware of these dangers to minimize mishaps.
4. The logistics, scheduling and billing for this project require significant office support.
5. It is essential to have adequate space for storing the trees prior to distribution. Likewise, it is important to have water available for maintaining the trees between delivery and final distribution. Forest ReLeaf uses its 4-acre community nursery as its distribution site.
6. This is a very labor-intensive and physically demanding undertaking. It is important to have volunteers and equipment available to help with the process.
7. Take advantage of this opportunity to network with partners and volunteers. This is an excellent chance to develop a sense of camaraderie with supporters. This project also fosters a sense of community within the forestry networks.
Contact information:
Nancy von Brecht, Executive Director
Mike Walsh, Forestry Programs Manager
Forest ReLeaf of Missouri
4207 Lindell, Suite 301
St. Louis, MO 63108
Phone: 314-533-5323 or 888-473-5323
Fax: 314/533-0016