Hundreds of Volunteer Commit to Forest Resotration
The Green Crew big spring project, part of our Rewilding program, partnered with the University of Minnesota on the planting of 50 American Elm Trees. But the project became so much more!
Background on the Trees
This science-based conservation effort was more than planting trees in the forest — it was part of a 20-year effort by the university to identify and cultivate trees that had a natural resistance to Dutch Elm Disease.
Elm trees used to be a major component of the landscape in Minnesota and the United States. However, the trees were struck with the blight called Dutch Elm Disease that originated in North-Western Europe. Since then, the number of Elm trees has plummeted into the “dangerous” zone.
Elm trees are a vital contributor to ecosystems in the Midwest. Primarily, Elm trees are fantastic for carbon sequestration and are needed to counterbalance the greenhouse effect that causes global warming. In addition, Elm trees provide secure habitats for bald eagles, bats, and various other Northern birds.
Green Crew co-founder, Hannah Barisonzi chose to lead this project for the Crew. Not only was it a Crew project, it was also the project for her Eagle Scout rank with the Boy Scouts of America. The Green Crew is Venture Crew 3111. Hannah is dual enrolled in a ScoutBSA Troop and the Venture Crew. She submitted and received approval for this project to be her Eagle Scout project.
Hannah’s organization of this project reflected the very best of what the Green Crew aspires to be. She engaged and involved every single member of the Crew in a defined responsibility. This collaborative leadership reflects the ecological leadership model of the Green Crew.
The Prep Work
Since November 2022, Hannah worked with the key stakeholders on the details of the project. This included the number, size, and potential locations for the trees. It also included the logistics of safely and ecologically bringing volunteers on-site to plant the trees.
The project work was organized into work teams. Each work team was designed to be 6-8 volunteers. Each team had a designated leader. Each work team leader was a youth member of the Green Crew. This provided each of the Green Crew youth with a leadership development opportunity. The work teams included: trees, data, planting, and watering. There were also support teams including food, parking, volunteer support, and safety.
The Data Model
Hannah also designed a primary workflow of the steps for the planting of each tree. Each step was assigned to a specific work team. Each of the work teams also had a quality control step. This ensured that each task was done correctly — the GPS location, the tree match, the holes, the tree planted, the watering, and the protection tube. For each of the teams, there were data sheets developed, and a digital platform to collect the data.
Walking Through the Details
Hannah gave a monthly update to the Green Crew Executive Team and the Leadership Team. This ensured that the skills and experience of all of the members were incorporated into the design of the project. It also made sure that there was a good flow of communication and information among the Crew members. This type of open collaborative model is so critical to the Green Crew approach to conservation projects.
Setting up a volunteer recruitment
Green Crew adult volunteers support our efforts with volunteer recruitment. We posted on VolunteerMatch, InnerView (youth community service platform), and Facebook. We sent out recruitment flyers to everyone who had attended previous events. We reached out to multiple schools, workplaces, and Scout units. Volunteer registration started slow, but then picked up quickly in the weeks before the event.
Expanding the Program
Adding the Younger Kids
Scout Troop 695 contacted us and donated 50 small Oak Trees for the younger kids (7-12) to plant. This ensured that every family who registered to volunteer would have an opportunity to be part of an age-appropriate conservation project. Ingrid Koehler stepped up to help coordinate both younger kid activities and to be the team lead on the Oak Tree planting.
Adding the Kids Program
Based on requests from volunteers, we added a program for kids who were too young to plant trees. Denice, an adult Green Crew volunteer with a background in outdoor education organized a pollinator mud-planting activity. A bad weather backup of coloring and crafts were planned.
Adding Additional Projects
Based on the volunteer signup, and our desire to ensure that “no one was standing around” — Griff put together a list of additional conservation projects which could be worked on. These included garlic mustard removal, buckthorn removal, wood chips on the trail, dredging the ravine erosion prevention dams, and more!
The Training Day
On Sunday, April 16th the team leaders got together for a Training session. Under Hannah’s direction, all the team leaders reviewed their roles and responsibilities. The full group walked through the entire project. We tested the flow and practiced our presentations. We discovered what would work and improved processes. The team from the University of Minnesota taught us how to properly plant trees to maximize their likelihood of survival. We also reviewed the safety plans and protocols to ensure a zero-injury event.
The Land Blessing
On Friday, April 21st, the evening before Earth Day we hosted a Land Blessing. It was a private event for the youth leaders in partnership with the elders of the Minnesota Indigenous Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition (MIWSAC). It was an opportunity for the youth leaders to focus our efforts on both the material and spiritual restoration of the land. It was also to establish a relationship with the native elders. Zasha served as the project leader for this portion of the activities.
The blessing was done at the campfire ring by the outdoor classroom. In a circle around the ring, we had installed 7 signposts– each engraved with one of the seven Anishinaabe Grandfather principles. Green Crew member Henrik engraved them so that each had the principal in Dakota, Annishinabe, English, and Spanish. The Blessing includes songs, drumming, and blessings. There was a Blessing for us to honor Mother Earth as a survivor and recommit to her healing by our advisor Joseph Barisonzi. Zasha Padilla did a water blessing focused on Respect. Camille did an earth blessing focused on Courage. Hannah did a blessing focused on Humility.
Everyone who participated found the ceremony deeply moving and a tradition we wanted to continue.
The Saturday Earth Day Event
Despite initial concerns that the cold weather would keep volunteers away, even before the Green Crew leadership had completed the Saturday morning setup, volunteers started arriving. It was so amazing.
We quickly realized that our registration process was not going to work (note to our future selves) and we focused on ensuring that we had the proper waivers from folks and they had a good work team to join.
At just past 9 even though volunteers were still streaming in, Hannah did a welcome. She welcomed folks to the Minnesota Valley chapter of the Izaak Walton League. She gave an overview of the agenda for the day and the background on the trees. She also did a refresher for every one of the 7 Leave No Trace Principles. Joshua did a safety briefing. And then with a rousing cheer, Hannah sent folks off to join their teams.
Sometimes a project design suffers from nothing going wrong. The result was a high degree of efficiency. The ground was much wetter and thus easier to plant. The tree root balls were smaller the expected. The locations were easier to find. The shovels were plentiful. The water buckets were easier to carry. The result was the planting teams got trees in the ground much faster than we expected.
When lunch break came, Hannah bid the morning volunteers thank you and goodby. As jeremy messersmith sang to the crowd, the youth leaders huddled and decided on a plan. Volunteers were redirected to the additional conservation projects, and a team was split off to find locations for the additional 34 trees that, while not in the original scope were brought by the University of Minnesota and able to be planted.
The Additional Projects
Healthy Elm Trees need a healthy forest. Under Grif’s leadership, we coordinated volunteers to do other conservation projects. These included garlic mustard removal and buckthorn removal. New wood chips were put on the nature trails. Cut wood was moved. An erosion dam was dredged. A retaining wall was started. These are all projects which will continue all summer, and it was great to get a head start!
The Sunday Event
On Sunday more volunteers came. We were relaxed and casual and laughed a lot! We were able to finish the full set of 84 trees in the morning quickly and efficiently. And an incredible job on the additional conservation projects. We were even able to do a great job cleaning up.
The Next Steps
On Tuesday, The Star Tribune ran a front-page story about the Elm Tree Planting project. Great attention was given to the importance of the Tree Reforestation project, and the role of the Green Crew was highlighted. An amazing set of pictures were published showing all sorts of volunteers participating in the effort.
Evaluation of our events is important. Everyone who registered for the event was sent a short evaluation form and provided an opportunity to give feedback to the youth organizers. At the Green Crew’s May Leadership meeting, we will evaluate the project. Everyone involved will be able to say what they felt worked and what did not work. The goal is to make our projects better. Honest reflection and feedback are critical. The primary stakeholders, including the Board of the Minnesota Valley Chapter of the Izaak Walton League and the University of Minnesota, will meet to review the project.
A specific focus on the stakeholder meeting will be the opportunity to replicate the project, under the leadership of the Green Crew, with other Chapters of the Izaak Walton League and community-based partners across the State. The model developed by the Green Crew has the real opportunity to make a difference for Elm Trees and forests throughout the State — and we are excited to explore the opportunity.