Growing up on 1,000 acres of forestland, I didn't think twice about what trees meant to me. They were just there and a part of my everyday life. Then, I moved to the city, where I had exactly one tree in my front yard. There was no escaping the sun in the summertime. You don’t realize what you have until you don’t have it anymore.
This realization, and a desire to give back to my community, led me to volunteer for Louisville Grows. I’m now the executive director. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with two main programs—urban forestry and urban agriculture. Louisville is losing more than 50,000 trees a year, and we focus on the important task of repairing the urban tree canopy.
We are the community partner for The Nature Conservancy's Green Heart project, and this partnership provides us an opportunity to work on a much larger scale than we usually do, while staying true to our mission. It’s what we do every day. We have been focusing on canvassing and outreach for the residential tree planting efforts, working with neighborhood associations and going door to door in the planting areas. We are identifying homeowners who want trees, and then utilizing volunteers to plant those trees. On larger trees, we’ve been coordinating with the landowner to see what they want and where they want it and working with the installer to get them in.
Working with TNC has been mutually beneficial. TNC is a big organization that works all over the world. It has brought new resources to our small nonprofit, and it has elevated the conversation about trees with rigorous science. But, it would be difficult for TNC to implement this project at the community level without a community partner. We have the name recognition, we only operate here in Louisville, and our localness helps this big project get a foot in the door with the community.
The response from the community has been better than we expected. On our typical plantings, we see about an 8 to 12 percent uptake rate—the percentage of people who say yes to having a tree planted on their property. That means if we want to find homes for 150 trees, we’ve got to canvass 1,500 houses. For the Green Heart project, however, we’re above 20 percent uptake so far. In addition to the health study, Green Heart is doing some social science research. One of the things we’re asking is why people say yes or no to trees. Why did 80 percent of people say no? What is the barrier? Rolling this project out in other cities in the future, if we know the barrier, we can remove it.
This time of year, a lot of our work is planning. I’m a professional email-doer and meeting go to-er. Once we get into the spring we’ll start planting trees. Then I’m the chief tractor operator and trucker. Part of my leadership style is that I don’t shy away from getting the work done. I wear many hats, from fundraising to payroll and HR to hiring and staffing.
I’m really looking forward to the Green Heart project results. I always tell people, if you have a problem, trees can help. Whether it’s storm water, heat, air pollution, mental health, or community connection. But the current data we have on trees is correlative. Having a real study that proves that trees are having X, Y, and Z benefits will give us a lot of ammunition to go to our local governments and say, you need to fund trees. I'm looking forward to this providing organizations like Louisville Grows with facts to show the importance of the work we're doing.