Replanting in Tornado-Affected Areas with Neighborhood Planting Captains

It’s been an unexpected year so far, to say the very least. For the Root Nashville campaign, and for neighbors affected by the tornado, one of these surprises actually came as a bright spot of positivity.

Through a generous tree donation from Hale & Hines nursery in McMinnville, Tennessee, the Root Nashville campaign facilitated, planted, and delivered over 500 *large* trees to loving new homes in North Nashville, East Nashville, and Donelson — all in less than one week… during a pandemic… and 90+-degree heat.

A generous donation

This project was made possible through Hale & Hines nursery, located in McMinnville. Hale & Hines is a family-owned and operated business that specializes in container-grown trees — trees that are grown within in-ground pots. We were able to see first-hand the company’s sustainable practices while touring the grounds and talking with General Manager James Hines.

“We are so impressed with Hale & Hines’ commitment to land conservation on their grounds. The ‘pot-in-pot’ production helps preserve the ground and prevent soil erosion,” said Cumberland River Compact Executive Director Mekayle Houghton.

Hale & Hines generously offered beautiful, 1.5”-caliper trees to neighborhoods impacted by the tornado, as a way to give back and help reforest our city after so many large trees were lost.

Captains at work

With the possibility of this donation, our next questions were: “How are we going to gauge neighborhood interest in trees? Are neighborhoods ready for replanting efforts right now? How can we ensure that word is getting out on the ground?”

Fortunately, the answer was already in place through the new Neighborhood Planting Captain program. These Captains are neighborhood advocates who applied through Root Nashville to become the communications and logistics leaders for their specific area.

I wanted to be a Neighborhood Planting Captain because I wanted to do something to help my community. I was in school in Knoxville when the tornado hit and the cleanup happened, so I felt like this would be my way of helping my neighbors,” said Captain Jackie Rose of the Stanford Estates neighborhood in Donelson. “Stanford Estates has, over the last few years, been hit with many strong storms and straight-line winds — each time taking down more trees. Planting more trees and restoring the tree canopy we once had is crucial to preventing more damage from strong storms. That is just one of the many many benefits of planting trees!”

We worked with 15 Captains in tornado-affected areas, and they shared the opportunity through digital methods like Facebook groups or the NextDoor app, in addition to distributing flyers. Captains spread hundreds of flyers, worked with their local neighborhood associations, continually posted about the opportunity, and organized all of the necessary contact information and species requests. This project would absolutely not have been possible without their sincere dedication and hard work.

What are the benefits of working with our Neighborhood Planting Captains? With this grassroots method, trees were recruited neighbor-to-neighbor. We’ve found success when neighbors are approaching their own community for trees. Utilizing on-the-ground Captains also multiplies the efforts of the Root Nashville campaign and allows us to get even more work done. And hey — it’s also just plain fun to work with locals from all over the city who care deeply about their neighborhoods and about the importance of trees.

“I’ve enjoyed my experience as a tree captain. I was worried that many neighbors would be wary of trees since the last few storms have caused trees to fall on houses and cars. However, there was a lot of positive feedback which has been very exciting,” Rose said.

Planting in June?!

With the requested species totals in place from the planting captains, we placed the tree order with Hale & Hines. Two semi-trucks of trees (yes, a “semi-truck of trees” is a unit of measurement!) arrived on the morning of June 10. There are few sights that make a tree-planting campaign happier:

Unloading trees under Korean Veterans Bridge
Prepping to send trees to new homes!

Now a word of explanation: June is not typically planting season. Usually, the best time to plant is when trees are dormant, from about October through March. However, the trees from this donation are container trees, making them safer to plant throughout the year, and each tree recipient promised to regularly water and care for their new trees — especially over the hot summer months.

After our trucks-o-trees arrived onsite in Nashville, deliveries to each individual neighborhood began right away using small crews with pickup trucks and trailers. All staff members from the Cumberland River Compact lent their sweat equity to the project throughout the week: unloading and staging, delivery and planting, and leading communications with all the tree recipients and administrative assistance. It was an all-hands-on-deck situation as we worked in mini-teams, and while keeping a safe distance, to achieve what would normally be completed by a large group of loyal volunteers.

We were also very fortunate to work with some small, independent groups of volunteers. Instead of meeting onsite in a big group for the kick-off, we worked remotely and communicated planting “assignments” with volunteers who have tree-planting experience. Here’s Margo Owen with her family at one of our planting sites:

Margo (right) and her family

Green Shirt Volunteers from the Nashville Tree Foundation assisted with socially-distant planting efforts, and we’d like to extend a special shout-out to the fabulous Trish Marshall and Michael Magnin for all their help (again!). Big thanks as well to rockstar volunteers such as Root partners Rebecca Dohn from Metro Water Services, Jennifer Smith from Metro Public Works, Metro Tree Advisory Committee member Kevin Key, Margo Owen from the Nashville Tree Foundation, and AmeriCorps members from Hands On Nashville for working hard and braving the heat to help get all of these large, beautiful trees established in their new homes.

By the end of the day on Sunday, June 14, all of the hundreds of trees were planted in their new locations. Trust us, we all slept well over those next few days…

From some of our tree recipients:

  • “The abundance of mature trees was one of the main reasons we moved to the neighborhood just a month before the tornado on March 3. Sad to see that so many trees did not make it through the storm. Our new house also sustained damage and we are still working with contractors on the repairs. The many volunteer initiatives helped us stay positive during that time. Please pass on our heartfelt gratitude to Root Nashville and our Neighborhood Planting Captain Micah Puncohar. It means a lot to see many new trees planted by your gracious and capable volunteers all around in the neighborhood, together we will embrace with joy the changing seasons.” – new tree owners John and Anja D. (pictured below)
New tree owner dutifully watering
  • “Thank you so much! We are so thankful! The animals and wildlife will especially be grateful when they have a place to lie down when they cut through our subdivision from the park.” – Michelle B.
  • “Thanks so much for organizing all of this. I know this is a huge project. You guys rock” – Shari D.
  • “So stoked. Lost a giant ash tree in the backyard in the tornado and damage to our maple. Excited to get some new buds planted!” – Ethan and Kalle L.

What’s next?

This unusual June planting is only the beginning of replanting efforts. Our Neighborhood Planting Captains in tornado-affected neighborhoods are continuing to recruit their neighbors for trees for plantings taking place between October 2020 and March 2021. We also know that some Nashvillians might not be prepared to replant yet — and that’s okay. Root Nashville is a long-term campaign, and we’re here to help when the community is ready, as are our friends and partners with other organizations.

Our friends at the Nashville Tree Conservation Corps also found homes for hundreds of donated Hale & Hines trees for their Operation Overstory program, including replanting efforts at the Lockeland Springs Park in East Nashville and many individual homes. Read more about Operation Overstory here and the Nashville Tree Conservation Corps here.

The Nashville Tree Foundation has also launched ReLeaf 2020, with the goal of replanting 10,000 trees. The Foundation will be replanting at Fisk Park in North Nashville, which was likely the hardest-hit in the tornado, and at many other sites as well during the next planting season. Check out more about ReLeaf 2020 here and our partners at the Nashville Tree Foundation here.

All of these newly planted trees count towards the Root Nashville citywide goal of planting 500,000 trees in Davidson County by 2050. But these projects aren’t about the numbers; replanting is about restoring what was lost, which is so important because trees bring us many benefits and keep our neighborhoods healthy.

If you’d like to donate towards continued planting projects with Root Nashville, click here. All donations go towards the purchase of new trees.

Volunteers proclaiming a hearty “yes we canopy!”

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