On a rainy morning, California Scholarship Federation (CSF) volunteers took in their surroundings: rows of young trees, shrubs, grasses and succulents in their first weeks of life, nestled below hand-drawn signs providing inspirational facts and intricate graphics. Initially unaware of the type of nursery she’d be volunteering at, sophomore Upasana Dilip was pleasantly surprised by the forest-like environment she found herself in.
Emily Rooey, leader of the Our City Forest volunteering event, works with the nonprofit organization through a partnership with Americorps. Since Our City Forest’s founding in 1994, the organization has worked towards increasing the amount of trees in the Silicon Valley. Its primary goal has been to involve community members in helping the world become more environmentally friendly, and by doing so, has planted over 60,000 trees to date.
“We like to engage the community – that’s our main goal,” Rooey said. “We’d rather plant one tree with a hundred people than plant a hundred trees with just us. Because everyone that experiences that is going to go and spread that knowledge to everyone else.”
The volunteers were taken on a tour through the Our City Forest nursery, exploring numerous types of trees and shrubs along with the work required to tend to different species. They walked past patches of young plants not yet old enough to be sold, as well as collections of trees or shrubs ready to be bought or transferred to a lawn.
After the tour, CSF volunteers were split into groups to carry out different tasks: mulching, gravelling, rooting and potting. Junior Kimberly Chen was assigned to applying mulch, a mixture of small branches, dirt, soil and small minerals, which serves as an organic fertilizer for plants growing in the nursery.
Chen was also tasked with transporting the mulch in a wheelbarrow to the next stage of the process, gravelling. During gravelling, a layer of gravel rocks is placed around a tree in order to prevent the growth of weeds while allowing the tree to absorb moisture. After her experience making mulch and gravel for the various plants in the nursery, Chen believes she’s developed a newfound appreciation for the haven Our City Nursery creates for plants.
“I didn’t think they would have such an intact ecosystem for what they try to preserve,” Chen said. “But I think it’s really cool that they’re not [just] growing plants — they’re trying to live in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way — that also means trying to balance this ecosystem with other organisms beside plants, such as owls and hawks.”
After participating in the work required to plant trees first-hand, Dilip shares that she was impressed with the steps taken by the nursery to help preserve the environment, and glad that she could take part in the process.
“I learned how much effort it takes to help the environment,” Dilip said. “We’re always like ‘Yeah, let’s help the environment’ but you never actually do anything. So this organization does everything super eco-friendly and it also does really good things for the community as well. It just shows you how much work goes into that kind of stuff.”
From creating mulch for the trees, pruning the roots and potting them, the volunteers were taken through the complicated process of how the Our City Nursery grows trees. Rooey emphasizes that showing people how this process works is precisely the goal of the volunteer program, and that she wants volunteers to come away with a newfound appreciation for the environment around them.
“We educate the people on planting trees that are actually going to thrive and do well and help the environment,” Rooey said. “I hope [the volunteers] fall in love with Earth and want to get their hands dirty and plant some more trees or shrubs. Basically, I want them to care more about the environment when they leave here.”
Photos taken by Claire Chang.