WHOLE LIFE TIMES
By Abigail Lewis
There are places in the world where most of the trees have been chopped down for firewood. That’s like shooting the goose that lays the golden eggs, and eating it for dinner. Once the tree is gone, so, too, is the shade from its canopy, the breeze from it’s swaying leaves, the oxygen it produces as it processes our carbon dioxide, and any seeds or fruit it might contribute to the survival of living creatures.
Here in Los Angeles, baking summers and miles of highway have given us a profound appreciation for trees, particularly in the most denuded areas. We can’t count on the DPW to plant trees, but TreePeople, a nonprofit located on Coldwater Canyon between Beverly Hills and Studio City, has been distributing and planting trees here for 26 years. Dedicated to “helping nature heal our cities,” TreePeople has given away nearly 100,000 young, bare-root fruit trees to L.A. residents.
In just the first two months of 2010, the group gave 9,000 fruit trees to more than 90 community groups as part of their annual Fruit Tree Giveaway. Bare-root fruit trees planted in winter months can produce fruit as soon as the following summer, and continue to do so for up to 40 years.
“We love sharing fruit trees with urban Los Angeles,” says Steve Hofvendahl, TreePeople’s fruit tree manager. “We’re helping feed L.A.’s under-served areas with the best tasting homegrown fruit imaginable!”
Another reason for choosing fruit trees is that fruit is so essential to a healthy diet, and half of all adults in California are overweight or obese. This is more likely to occur in communities that lack ready access to fresh produce.
TreePeople chooses trees that will thrive in our Mediterranean climate, and many will flourish in pots if there is no bit of earth available. The organization offers detailed planting and care instructions in both English and Spanish, as well as free training on proper planting and care of the trees.
While TreePeople takes several different routes to reach the community—faith-based groups, schools, elected officials, farmers markets and community gardens—the Emmy Award-winning green theater troupe Common Vision focuses solely on schools. This all-volunteer group is in its seventh year of touring the state in the world’s largest veggie oil-powered caravan. In the tradition of the legendary Johnny Appleseed, they make music and plant fruit trees wherever they go.
This year the Fruit Tree Tour is teaming up with national dairy cooperative Organic Valley—America’s largest cooperative of independent and farmer-owned organic farmers, representing 1,652 farmers—to present information about healthy food and its origins through a circus-like program that also features oversized puppets and an eclectic bunch of characters. The Common Vision caravan visits mostly Title 1 schools in “urban deserts,” where cheap processed food is often the only option for local families.
“Our food systems, petroleum economy and culture of consumerism are causing big problems, not only for the environment but for our bodies,” says Fruit Tree Tour veteran organizer Megan Watson. “Thankfully, simple acts like planting a tree and growing food have a ripple effect that can create big change for a healthier people and planet.”
Fruit Tree Tour has reached 45,000 students and transformed more than 150 low-income schools and community centers into abundant orchards through the planting of more than 3,500 fruit trees. Plantings range from a few trees to a few hundred, and with proper care can provide enough fresh fruit for a school’s cafeteria and community. In Southern California, this year’s tour is performing and planting at public schools in Claremont, Compton, Culver City, Lawndale, Los Angeles, Pacific Palisades and Santa Barbara.