Picture two Brownie Girl Scouts in uniform. One is holding a small tree, a two-year-old seedling, and the other is trying valiantly to dig a hole for the tree to live in. She can't quite make a dent in the hard clay soil of the old strip mine land, so an older girl of 19 comes over to lend a hand. Between the three of them, they plant 25 trees in an hour, two digging and one waiting patiently until it is her turn to lovingly cover the roots with soil. It seems like slow planting, but it sure feels satisfying when the hour is up.
I should know; I was the older girl who helped the Girl Scouts. The three of us, and over 500 other students and adults, celebrated Arbor Day 1994 by planting 17,000 trees on an old strip-mine. Someday the once bare hillside will be covered with trees, and children will run through trails in the woods. I feel proud to have helped make it so.
That day of planting was just one day during "Tree Week" in Ohio. This year, over 500,000 students learned about the importance of trees for providing food and shelter, for purifying the air, for animals' habitats, even for shade. Teachers took their students outdoors to look for signs of spring and learn the difference between conifer and deciduous trees (in other words, between evergreens and hardwoods.) Children packed individual trees into plastic sandwich bags to take home and plant in their yards. But the busiest place of all was the office of the American Free Tree Program, the organizers of Tree Week.
The American Free Tree Program, AFTP, is a non-profit organization that believes the easiest way we can help the Earth is for all of us to plant one tree every year for life. Six years ago my dad began a project to give trees to as many people as he could. Some of his trees went to schools, some to churches, some to farmers with extra land, some to businesses for their employees, and some to people who simply expressed interest in trees.
Millions of Trees Planted
This year, over 900,000 "tree volunteers", like the Girl Scouts and myself, planted more than 1.7 million trees in Ohio. Across the country, other people have liked my dad's idea, and have started new Free Tree Programs. In six years, AFTP volunteers have planted 4.75 million trees around the country.
In addition to planting hundreds of trees this year, I have been working at the AFTP national headquarters in Canton, Ohio. Last year, I helped to organize Tree Week projects, answered leaders' questions about running their tree giveaways, handled calls from all over Ohio, and created newsletters, reports, and volunteer training manuals on the computer.
There are many ways student volunteers can help AFTP reforest America. Most of all, we need every person to look around their own yard, neighborhood, or city to see where trees can be planted. We need leaders to say, "Hey, we need a Free Tree Program here and I'm going to be the one to start it." Contact the Arbor Day Foundation to find out when Arbor Day is celebrated in your state.
Editor's Note: National Arbor Day is always celebrated on the last Friday in April, but many states observe Arbor Day on different dates throughout the year based on best tree-planting times in their area.
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About The Author
Sara Kidd was 19 and entering her sophomore year at Kent State University, Ohio when she wrote this article. She is studying Spanish and planning to teach some day. In addition to her work for the AFTP, she is secretary of the Vegetarian Club of Canton. If you want to encourage tree planting in your area, please write to: Arbor Day Foundation, 100 Arbor Ave., Nebraska City, NE 68410. 402-474-5655. Sara can be reached at: American Free Tree Program, P.O. Box 9079, Canton, OH 44711.