How do you plant 1 million trees?
By Tim Huber, Anabaptist World
Mennonite Men’s JoinTrees initiative to plant 1 million trees sounds daunting until put into perspective. For one thing, U.S. coordinator Steve Thomas already planted 402 trees this summer.
For another, this isn’t the first seedling initiative to take root. Mennonites in Ukraine planted about 5 million trees in the 19th century. Mennonite conscientious objectors in British Columbia planted 17 million trees during World War II, just on Vancouver Island.
Thomas, a “treevangelist” pastor and certified arborist who is working on a master’s degree in natural resources and urban forestry, hopes the many benefits trees provide will prompt a similar movement among Anabaptists in the 21st century.
“While Mennonite Men is simply spearheading this campaign, this is not for males only,” he said. “We’re hoping girls and women engage this. Tree planting has special appeal to youth. It’s an opportunity for youth and young adults to work together.”
Mennonite Men began seeking seed money and land availability when JoinTrees went public in late October, with the hope of digging into planting projects when spring rolls around in March and April.
Partnerships will be key. Thomas has already begun meeting with Indiana highway officials to plant several hundred trees along a toll road with a men’s group there. He’s waiting for approval from Shenandoah National Park to plant 300 seedlings after blight took out several trees.
“Loren Hostetler has a farm outside Harrisonburg, Va., and has raised these from survivor tree seeds in Virginia,” Thomas said. “They are trying to reintroduce a pure American chestnut in the landscape.”
Mennonite Mission Network connections in Africa and South America play into the project as well, with a key goal focused on protecting 5,000 acres of Amazon rain forest and establishing tree-planting cultural exchange trips. Conversations are taking place with Schowalter Foundation in Kansas about the possibility of introducing more trees to six acres near Halstead leased for farming and deer hunting. A business in Indianapolis that gives a portion of corporate profits to tree planting could serve as inspiration for other businesses. Thomas is also working with Mennonite Central Committee Great Lakes executive director Eric Kurtz to collaborate in North America and abroad.
“MCC since the 1960s has been involved in tree-planting projects in Algeria, Palestine, all over,” Thomas said, noting MCC has responded more recently with partners in Haiti to plant more than 3 million trees there. “This isn’t some new environmental-movement thing. It’s part of our DNA, our history. Mennonites who have tended the land and God’s creation have done this in the past.”
Unlike more than a century ago, this time there’s an app to help. Plant-for-the-Planet lets people make donations to JoinTrees and register each tree they plant. More information is at mennonitemen.org/jointrees.