A tree farm occupying the space where a vacant city lot once existed in Fall River, Mass., turns heads as local residents walk by.
Within the ¾-acre lot stands nearly 320 trees waiting for their final transplant to streetscapes, parks and schools as they develop into mature, healthy specimens. Thanks to the helping hands of many local, young volunteers, the trees have the opportunity to help improve the community.
Approximately 20 children from YouthBuild, an organization comprising low-income individuals, ages 16 to 24, who work toward their GEDs or high school diplomas while building affordable housing, are involved with tree care responsibilities at the Fall River Tree Farm. They helped build the farm, dig holes for planting and spread mulch within the raised beds.
"The youth volunteers have learned a lot about planting techniques and the importance of trees to the community," explains Emily Hamilton, Davey Resource Group consulting urban forester for the City of Fall River. "For many, working closely with plants has helped the volunteers discover how interesting trees can be, as well as how much we can learn from them."
|Fall River's Street Tree Planting Program tree stewards use their expertise to ensure volunteers properly plant trees in their containers. Photo: Lindsay Hetzler|
Hamilton, who facilitates the city-run Tree Farm project and oversees its irrigation installation, has witnessed the YouthBuild volunteers begin to take ownership of the Tree Farm. "One young man seemed really excited about it," Hamilton says. "He's noticed the city beginning to turn around and has expressed 'it feels good to give back.'"
Hamilton first discovered the project when Fall River officials approached her with the concept in March. "The city, which received a grant to fund the project, wanted a community-building activity to help individuals give back," she explains.
"I first helped conduct research of the soil, site and materials," Hamilton says. "Poor drainage is a warning sign for failure, so we wanted to make sure the soil was in good condition to make maintenance and management much easier."
Mary Ann Wordell, the head of tree stewards, then provided a preliminary request for tree species, using the city's recent tree inventory data. Hamilton made the final order after choosing additional trees to create more variety and diversity.
|YouthBuild volunteers help construct the frame for the raised bed nursery. | Photo: Lindsay Hetzler|
The planting site, located in a residential area and originally owned by the city's water department, now fosters nearly 40 species of trees. "I chose a variety of low-growing, flowering and shade trees; hopefully something for all situations," Hamilton explains. To encourage the development of a large, healthy root stock, she also helped implement fabric planting containers at the Tree Farm. "About 95 percent of a tree's root system remains with the tree when it's transplanted," she says.
Although Hamilton must occasionally answer tree care questions remotely, she would like to incorporate more education at the Tree Farm in the future, such as arborist-led pruning and planting training. "Many YouthBuild volunteers may have never expected to want a job in the field, but I would be more than willing to help them out and make recommendations," she says, adding the program gives the youth something positive to do outdoors.
The Fall River Tree Farm will continue a three-year rotational cycle, during which volunteers will plant approximately 105 new trees and transplant approximately 100 trees to other public locations each year.