From Neighborhood Planting Captain to… Lieutenant!

Outstanding volunteer Ryan Bell encouraged his neighbors to sign up for trees -- and then kept going.

Being a Neighborhood Planting Captain means spreading the word to your neighbors about the opportunity for free trees and encouraging them to sign up. But what comes next after successfully fulfilling your captain role, if you are still interested in getting more trees planted in Nashville? For Ryan Bell in south Nashville, this meant a “promotion” from captain to lieutenant, as he invented new outreach methods for getting others involved and continuing the momentum.

Learn a little more about Ryan in our Q&A below, and get inspired to take on outreach efforts for trees in your own neighborhood.

Q: Where are you from, and where do you live now?

A: I’m a Nashville native and have lived in Nashville for 34 years! My spouse Courtney and I have lived in our Radnor/Woodbine neighborhood for 8 years — now with a baby girl, too. My neighborhood is filled with the best restaurants and food choices. Since this neighborhood sits in the middle of the most diverse zip code in Tennessee, there are so many cultures, nationalities, and ethnicities represented in the restaurant scene. That’s probably my favorite part of our neighborhood. 

Q: You started volunteering with the Root Nashville campaign as a Neighborhood Planting Captain. What was that experience like for you?

A: I was first introduced to the Root Nashville campaign through a tree sale led by the Cumberland River Compact, where I purchased two cherry trees for my front yard about five years ago. In 2020, I remember reading about Root Nashville and the awesome goal of planting 500k trees in Nashville by 2050 and that really energized me. 

It was the scariest part of the pandemic. We were heading into winter, and vaccines hadn’t come out just yet and the level of uncertainty was causing a lot of folks — including me — to start developing a level of anxiety that I had not experienced before. Root Nashville’s Neighborhood Planting Captain program could not have come at a better time for me. Getting out to knock on doors and meet so many good people in my neighborhood was incredibly rewarding. It helped me grow my sense of purpose and hope at a time when that was hard to come by. 

Our neighborhood really stepped up, and neighbors signed up for 100 trees in the spring of 2021. I was blown away. Anytime I walk by the trees planted in our neighborhood, I get to see the fruit of that labor and will continue to see those trees grow for future generations. I love that. I can’t think of anything more rewarding and fulfilling than knowing the trees planted today will be enjoyed by folks beyond my lifetime.

Q: Tell us a little more about what kinds of tree-recruiting you are doing now — above and beyond your original captain role for your neighbors’ yards. How have you continued to stay involved and find new homes for trees?

A: Root Nashville announced earlier this year a new program it was launching for large-scale planting projects for Nashville area businesses, houses of worship, nonprofits, apartment complexes, and HOA common areas. I read through the announcement and immediately thought of all of the industrial businesses along Allied Drive and Trousdale Lane. This area next to my neighborhood was void of canopy coverage and so in the same way I knocked on doors in my neighborhood, I knocked on doors in this industrial zone. I simply walked into the front door of each business and gave my five-minute elevator speech about Root Nashville and pitched the idea of planting 10 or more trees on their property for free!

After I knocked on all of those doors, I began researching other properties in South Nashville by looking on Google Maps and its satellite view to see where there were empty green spaces and emailed and cold-called those organizations. So, anytime I drive by a property with green space, I go in and pitch them on trees.

Note from the Root Nashville team: Two businesses have already signed up, and Ryan is also working with his church’s leadership to get a project going at Glendale Methodist United Church!

Q: What would you say to others who might be inspired by your success and interested in following your lead?

A: I really do hope to see more and more people who love the idea of a more shaded Nashville to simply take it upon themselves to make the pitch to other Nashville-area organizations and businesses who could use the canopy spread. It’s an easy pitch. It’s easy because you’re not selling something; you are gifting something. And people are receptive to that.

Q: What do you love about this volunteer work?

A: I love how much value trees add to a city’s aesthetic. Trees can completely transform a street, in both how it looks and how pleasant it is to walk. Being a captain (and now lieutenant! — I’m sorry, but can I just say how much I friggin’ love the titles?!) means I have the privilege of helping to transform parts of Nashville. I get to leave my mark!

Q: Anything else to share to help get others thinking?

As you imagine Nashville’s future growth and the way the city is being built up today, please also try to imagine the future with lots of trees and cooler temperatures.

Inspired to start your own outreach to businesses, churches, or other areas in your neighborhood that could use trees? Learn more here, and download this one-pager for in-person recruiting. Reach out to us at if you would like to talk through the process.

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