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A forest for the future [replay]

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KAYTE YOUNG: From WFIU and Bloomington, Indiana, I'm Kayte Young, and this is Earth Eats.

SARAH MINCEY: A community is not resilient unless those benefits that we have from natural resources like urban trees, are distributed in a way that all people are benefiting from them. And we do know that we have areas of the city that have lower canopy cover, and some of those are associated also with lower income communities and marginalized communities. And arguably, those are the people that would be most benefited by Eco-System services and the benefits of trees.

KAYTE YOUNG: This week on the show, a conversation with Sarah Mincey and Hannah Gregory of Canopy Bloomington, an organization dedicated to community engagement with the Urban Forest. And we drop in on a tree planting event on a school playground. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG: Thanks for listening to Earth Eats, I'm Kayte Young.

KAYTE YOUNG: Did you know that Black Locust trees are rot resistant and therefore they make great fence posts. Oak firewood burns slow, while pine and cedar catch quickly and burn fast. Redbud flowers are edible, and mulberries are one of the first fruits to ripen here, in southern Indiana.

KAYTE YOUNG: There was a time in human history in which all of us would know these things and more, about the trees that grow around us. We would need to know for day-to-day survival. These days, many of us suffer from what some botanists refer to as `tree blindness'. We can't identify the many species that grow around us, and we often don't notice trees at all, unless we need some shade on a hot sunny day, or a fallen branch has blocked the road after a storm.

KAYTE YOUNG: My guests on today's show hope to address our lack of tree awareness.

HANNAH GREGORY: My name is Hannah Gregory and I'm the Forestry Director for Canopy Bloomington.

SARAH MINCEY: I'm Sarah Mincey and I'm a co-founder of Canopy Bloomington and I now serve as the Vice-President of our Board. I'm a faculty member at IU and I study urban forest management there.

KAYTE YOUNG: Their organization Canopy Bloomington has as its mission to quote, "Engage the Bloomington community in planting and caring for our urban forest together, in order to build a resilient and equitable green city for all." I asked Hannah and Sarah to start our conversation by unpacking that mission statement. Here's Hannah, starting with a definition of the urban forest.

HANNAH GREGORY: Typically, when we think about a forest, we think of Hoosier National Forest or out by [PHONETIC: Acorma] Creek State Park. So, like very natural forest setting is typically what we think of. And then urban forests exist in the city, and it exists in multiple areas in the city. Think of park trees, the trees that we see along the streets, downtown. The trees that are in people's yard. So, it crosses a lot of boundaries. So, there's privately owned trees, city owned trees and all those trees together make up an urban forest.

KAYTE YOUNG: Hannah, you touched on this a little bit that often, when we think of a forest, we think of a specific cluster of trees in a specific location. Thinking of all these scattered trees as a forest, I think it may be a new concept for some people.

HANNAH GREGORY: One of the typologies I typically use to describe urban forests is that there are remnant trees that nobody planted. Some of them have old growth status in cities. There are a lot of planted trees and there are emergent trees, trees that just come up from seeds, every growing season. Lots of different kinds.

HANNAH GREGORY: Traditional forestry, there's a division of forestry called Silviculture and they focus on managing patches or stands of trees. So, there's an equivalent potentially, in urban forestry, Urban Silviculture, you could consider thinking about those different patches, whether they're divided by different kinds of property rights, or different functions. They are effectively stands that could be potentially managed for different goals. And that is not my idea I should say, that is the concept of Doctor Burney Fischer who is another board member of Canopy Bloomington. So go to give credit where credit is due.

KAYTE YOUNG: So, community engagement is an important part of this mission. Can you talk about that?

HANNAH GREGORY: One of the main missions of Canopy Bloomington is connecting people to the urban forest. I think a lot about this concept of tree blindness, whereas people exist in the city, and when they're walking down streets and when they're enjoying their parks, they know that there are trees there, and that there's herbaceous plants and lawn, but they don't necessarily know much about the trees. They don't recognize that there's different species. So, part of our mission is just connecting people with the benefits that trees provide to us, and how to properly care for that forest. We do collaborative tree plantings with different community organizations, and people are a main component of that mission.

HANNAH GREGORY: Trees in cities really are almost a common pool resource, honestly, or public good. They are subject to threats and removal and so if we know that trees give us benefits across the city and we want them to be there, then we have to have everybody engaged in understanding that. So that community engagement, I think, starts from the very beginning, about asking a community whether or not they actually want trees. There are places where people don't want trees and there are good reason not to have trees. One example is a garden. You don't want to have trees in a space where you need sunlight, so that wouldn't work. If we went into a space that was a vacant lot, that people were planting a garden, and we wanted to have trees there. So, the first question is, do we even want trees in this space, with the people who live there? But then it goes all the way to the end after you've engaged them in planting, and you've chosen species with them that makes sense for their lives.

HANNAH GREGORY: Then to the watering, the mulching and the maintenance of trees. If you have community members engaged at all stages, then it's much more likely that you're co-producing a sustainable resource. And we know this from years and years and years of research, some of it done right here in Bloomington by Lin Ostrom, the Nobel Laureate of Indiana University who studied how do we sustain natural resources like this with a community.

KAYTE YOUNG: Tree planting is a big part of the work that you're doing but also, it's more than planting, it's also caring for the trees, for new trees that you're planting plus the existing trees that are already there. Could you talk about those two actions, and how your organization is participating in both?

HANNAH GREGORY: When we do a planting with a community organization, that could be a school, church, neighborhood etcetera, we provide them with the knowledge that they need to continue the care of those trees. And we boost that by mulching the trees, putting trunk guards on all the trees which is going to protect from deer, which is a really common factor that leads to young tree death in Bloomington, because we have so many deer. And then watergaters, which is going to help folks keep their trees watered. So, we provide them with the information that they need of how long they need to water their trees for, throughout the season, and actually we can come back and help them.

HANNAH GREGORY: So, for example, our very first tree planting was in October of 2021, and we came back that next Spring and met with the neighborhood that we had planted with, and just checked in with them, made sure that they were keeping up with the care of the trees that we planted, and answered any questions that they had, that could improve their knowledge, to be able to do that successfully.

KAYTE YOUNG: Can you say one, what is a watergater?

HANNAH GREGORY: So, if you're driving around Bloomington, a lot of times you'll see these on street trees, are those tall, green watering bags. I think some of the trees on campus also have them. Basically, they are this watering bag that you can fill up with a hose and it slowly releases the water, so it helps keep the trees watered over a longer period of time.

KAYTE YOUNG: I was also wondering what kind of damage do deer typically inflict on a young tree?

HANNAH GREGORY: Generally, it's them rubbing their antlers on the trunk of the tree and also eating the foliage. But generally, the rubbing of the antlers on the tree causes more damage. The trunk guards that we install are really cheap but effective tool to fight back against that, because it just provides like a plastic barrier, so our deer can't do that.

KAYTE YOUNG: So, if a young tree gets that kind of damage on it, does it just make it more susceptible to disease?

HANNAH GREGORY: Yes. The trees that we plant are fairly large already. So, we plant trees that are already like around an inch and a half in DBH, which is the diameter of the tree, and between six and seven feet tall. So we're already planting fairly large trees. But if a deer's rubbing its antlers, it can either push the tree out of the ground, or it can leave a wound that then yes, would cause a tree to be more susceptible to pests and diseases and stuff. So, it's just a very simple way to help people protect their trees from that.

KAYTE YOUNG: And I guess if the deer made it all the way around the circumference of the trunk, it could even girdle the tree. So cut off the vascular system, for the tree to be able to function, and death would occur? And then at some point, I guess you take those off, once they're old enough?

HANNAH GREGORY: Yes. So, the ones that we install on the trees which are generally the ones that people use there until the tree is four inches in DBH.

KAYTE YOUNG: Finally in your mission statement, it says "To build a resilient and equitably green city for all." And I was wondering if you could talk about the importance of trees in urban communities, and what is meant by `resilient and equitably green'?

SARAH MINCEY: I'll start, but I definitely want to hear what you have to say Hannah. In some ways, this was one of the most controversial pieces of the mission. We were putting it together because, to me, resilience includes equity within it. So, my definition of resilience has that component. But resilience is basically having characteristics that allow a system to be able to respond to disturbances and continue to function. So, what is the major disturbance of our time? It's climate change. So, we have to be thinking ahead, as an organization to build a resilient urban forest, to be putting trees in the ground that are the right species for the conditions, that we project that we're going to be experiencing in the state of Indiana.

SARAH MINCEY: For a large part that means, we are planting species that are typically found further south. Their native ranges have typically been further south, but they're moving. Some of the species that we have always been able to plant in Indiana, or have grown naturally here, are no longer thriving. And so, that's part of resilience, is thinking about the disaster, the disturbance of climate change that is upon us, and being able to respond to that now, as the slow growing organisms need to be able to withstand that over time, to provide benefits.

SARAH MINCEY: But the equity piece, I think we decided to pull that out separately, because we really really wanted to emphasize that a community is not resilient unless those benefits that we have, from natural resources like urban trees, are distributed in a way that all people are benefiting from them. And we do know that we have areas of the city that have lower canopy cover, and some of those are associated also with lower income communities and marginalized communities. And arguably, those are the people that would be most benefited by Eco-System Services and the benefits of trees.

SARAH MINCEY: For example, a tree large enough that shades a home means the energy costs for that home are lower. So, the folks who are lower income would certainly benefit more. There's been some really good research that shows that investments in lower income and marginalized communities relative to more wealthy communities, in terms of growing an urban forest, actually have larger health benefits, physical health benefits, on the community members that are otherwise marginalized, lower income, relative to those wealthier communities.

SARAH MINCEY: So, we really know that this is about improving the environment for everyone and bringing the canopy cover up, in those lower canopy covered areas, and thinking about equity for them, in terms of the benefits. Tree equity is sort of the term, it's been popularized over the past few years. The American Forests non-profit organization which is a national non-profit that does a lot of reforestation, they released a tool called The Tree Equity Tool. And they assigned a tree equity score to different cities across the United States, and Bloomington being one of them, where you can get an overall score of the tree equity.

SARAH MINCEY: So, it bases it off of current canopy, a bunch of other climate and ecological related variables. And then also socio-economic variables like age, race, income. I think population density was one of them. And so it assigns a score. And then if you zoom into your city, it breaks down that score into different block groups. So you can really see the variation in equity across a single city. So, while Bloomington may have a really great overall tree equity score, a closer look shows us that there are areas of Bloomington that are really lacking in canopy cover and have those other compounding socio-economic impacts. So, we have used that data and then also Bloomington's tree inventory and canopy assessment data that was completed in 2018, as well as some other variables, to come up with our own sort of priority planting scheme, that we use to select planting locations, both at the neighborhood level and at the organization level.

SARAH MINCEY: So, a lot of the organizations that we plant with serve those demographics that we're interested in boosting this tree equity score. So, all the decisions that we make are backed by this data analysis that we have.

KAYTE YOUNG: Could you say what some of those health benefits are that you talked about being even stronger in marginalized communities? The health benefits of trees?

HANNAH GREGORY: Let me speak to that generally. I might have to pull that paper up to know exactly what the factors were, that they were looking at.

SARAH MINCEY: But that one was so particularly interesting, because of the comparison that they made, to say the same intervention actually made a bigger impact on these. Whether it was cardiovascular markers or whatever, it was bigger there. So generally, though, the health benefits of urban forests range from physical, mental and social wellbeing, for people. There are physical health benefits in terms of, and I'm just going to give a few examples. Trees can help clean the air. There are pollutants within the air that they can help remove. So that can help our cardiovascular health and our lung health.

SARAH MINCEY: Trees can help us in terms of mental health as well. There are probably thousands of studies at this point, that show how green spaces can impact people's cortisol levels. You enter into forest for forest bathing for a reason. [LAUGHS] You know, there's a concept about that, it reduces stress.

KAYTE YOUNG: I'm going to jump in here briefly. Had you ever heard of forest bathing before today? It's a term that showed up in the 1980s in Japan. Shinrin-Yoku, meaning Forest Bathing, or taking in the atmosphere of the forest. The Masumoto Family Farm in California's Central Valley offers blossom bathing when their peach trees are flowering. It sounds really lovely. We have a link about that on our website, Okay, back to Sarah.

SARAH MINCEY: It can help with learning environments, increased learning. Productivity and work environments. So, all of that is related to mental health. And then social wellbeing. There are a lot of studies that show, when we have well managed green spaces that are tree spaces, where there's nice shade, they are naturally placed where people can gather, and make connections. When we provide that in public spaces, we are developing a location where there can be social ties. Just learning people's names in your neighborhood starts to make a difference because that's the start of this, I guess pipeline, to social cohesion and then community capacity, to do more, as a group, to act together.

SARAH MINCEY: Also, there's a really great website. I think it's by the University of Washington, Green Cities: Good Health. That compiles all of these benefits of trees and breaks them down into different categories, whether it's economic, ecological, social, health, etcetera. It compiles all the research for each of those specific benefits.

SARAH MINCEY: And then one of the ones that I'm specifically interested in is the relationship between trees and heat. We know that trees provide shade and can lessen the impact of heat islands in cities. Canopy has joined the Heat Management Task force in Bloomington. So, Bloomington has a new task force that's focusing on emergency heat management in the city, and trees being one of the factors that will play into that long-term goal of reducing heat islands in Bloomington.

KAYTE YOUNG: What is a heat island?

SARAH MINCEY: The physics behind urban heat island is the idea that in a city we have so much more surface that is dark in color, it absorbs solar radiation and then it re-radiates that heat back, particularly at night. The temperature difference between an urban environment and the natural surrounding area can be really extreme, particularly at night. And so, one of the biggest, I think it is arguably the largest public health issue related to climate change is heat and death, by extreme heat. And that is particularly difficult at night, is when we see a lot of impact.

SARAH MINCEY: So, if we vegetate a city, we have less of that cover that's absorbing solar radiation. The leaf area can reflect solar radiation during the day, so there's less area to absorb it and re-radiate that heat. And then of course you have the effect also, of these microclimates under trees, that are shade.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yes, that just makes me think of, somewhat near my house when I used to walk home regularly, I would go a little bit further, just to walk up this alley that seemed to have this little micro-climate that was just noticeably cooler and more pleasant, because it was covered with trees.


KAYTE YOUNG: I also think that, when you think about a nice neighborhood, it's usually got richer trees. It's usually got that canopy, that feeling that it's been here a while, but also just that green space and the beauty and the shade, just all those things.

SARAH MINCEY: Yes. There's actually evidence that trees increase property value.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yes, I would think so.

KAYTE YOUNG: I'm speaking with Sarah Mincey and Hannah Gregory, of Canopy Bloomington, talking about the benefits of trees in cities.

KAYTE YOUNG: After a short break, we'll drop in on a tree planting at Fairview Elementary near downtown Bloomington and continue our conversation with Sarah and Hannah. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG: Kayte Young here. This is Earth Eats.

KAYTE YOUNG: The overcast sky was threatening rain. But the folks gathering on the edge of the playground near downtown Bloomington, were determined to complete their task.

KAYTE YOUNG: On a damp Spring day during the last week of the school year, students at Fairview Elementary had the chance to leave their classrooms, and venture onto the playground, to help plant trees with Canopy Bloomington. For this tree planting project, Canopy Bloomington brought two groups together, to get the trees in the ground.

KAYTE YOUNG: The first was a group of adult volunteers from the car rental company Enterprise. Enterprise is privately owned by the Taylor family, and they have a commitment to volunteering in the communities where they are located. Tree planting is part of what they do. Here's one of their volunteers talking about what he sees as the value in tree planting.

MALE ENTERPRISE VOLUNTEER: I definitely feel like plants improve the overall quality of life and oxygen and the overall wellbeing of human beings.

KAYTE YOUNG: The staff and volunteers work with school children ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade, to plant the trees. The adults were there to help with the heavy lifting, in this case digging, and to support the young volunteers and to guide their enthusiastic hands and feet towards nurturing the trees and away from damaging them.

HANNAH GREGORY: So, you'll see the trees are mostly laying on the ground. We want to make sure we're very gentle with them, because they're baby trees and they're very fragile. So, we want to be very gentle with our touches with them, okay.

KAYTE YOUNG: Hannah Gregory, Sarah Mincey and Ava Hartman were there, from Canopy Bloomington, with the trees, the tools and the expertise needed for a successful community planting day.

HANNAH GREGORY: First, we want to make sure. I'm going to widen this a little bit. Have you guys ever dug a hole before?


HANNAH GREGORY: That's the biggest hole you've ever seen?

KAYTE YOUNG: Lots of kids wanted to dig holes for the trees. But once one child spotted an earth worm in the dirt, it usually captured the attention of all the kids in the group.

CHILDREN: Kids look, it's a worm. We found a worm.

HANNAH GREGORY: Did you find one?

CHILDREN: I hold a worm. I hold the worm the whole time.

HANNAH GREGORY: Good job. We're done digging. We're about to put a tree in the ground.

CHILDREN: I have a worm.

HANNAH GREGORY: You guys. Look, we're ready to put the tree in the ground. We're going to roll the tree with the root ball, so that it doesn't hurt it. Are you ready? Another worm?

CHILDREN: Oh my God it's so small!

JAMES: Yes. I'll hold the baby worm.

HANNAH GREGORY: James has the baby and Danny has the mommy. And I have a tree. Look! Let's put it in the hole. Are you ready? Oh my gosh.

KAYTE YOUNG: I guess a worm has a little more personality than a tree.

KAYTE YOUNG: To start with, the location for each tree was marked and the trees were placed down on their sides. The kids moved in and out of the planting event at 20-minute intervals, which allowed most of the kids at the school a chance to cycle through, and to play a role in the planting.

KAYTE YOUNG: The first step is to dig a hole, but not too deep.

HANNAH GREGORY: The worst thing you can do for a tree is dig a hole that's too deep and too big. Because then it sinks, we have clay soils, and they settle and they sink. And when a tree sinks in, then the water pools up around the top and it dies, it girdles it. So, it's much better to have it high, above grade.

KAYTE YOUNG: Next, free the tree's root-ball from its protective bag. This requires cutting with a sharp garden knife called a Hori Hori.

JAMES: I've used a knife before.




KAYTE YOUNG: Adults only, obviously.

KAYTE YOUNG: Then the tree is gently lifted and guided into the prepared hole. Everyone helps to fill in the dirt around it. Once all the trees are planted, they need stakes and trunk guards and watergaters, and a donut of mulch around the base of the tree.

KAYTE YOUNG: With more than 15 trees in this school yard planting, there's enough work to last the day, and to give almost every child a chance to participate.

HANNAH GREGORY: And you can all say you helped plant this tree and someday, some day when you're old, you'll come back to this beautiful school and this tree will be how big?

JAMES: Bigger.

HANNAH GREGORY: It'll be really big.

KAYTE YOUNG: While the Fairview campus is not devoid of trees and the surrounding neighborhood has a relatively mature canopy, there was certainly a lot of open, unshaded space on the school grounds, and the trees were thoughtfully placed, not to interfere with open play in the fields.

KAYTE YOUNG: Fairview is a public school in the center of Bloomington, with the most racially diverse population, and with the highest percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced lunches, of all the schools in the district.

KAYTE YOUNG: This site meets one of Canopy Bloomington's criteria for prioritized tree planting.

HANNAH GREGORY: Our focus is to try to increase the canopy cover in Bloomington, but to particular focus on areas that are low income, marginalized, minority communities, who typically have had that kind of marginalization. And we do know that about Bloomington, that there is this inequity, there are areas that are inequitably covered by trees. And this area is one of them.

KAYTE YOUNG: After a quick break we'll hear more from Sarah Mincey and Hannah Gregory, about how Canopy Bloomington chooses their tree planting sites. Stay with us.


YOUNG MALE: Teamwork.


YOUNG MALE: Teamwork.

YOUNG MALE: I got this.

HANNAH GREGORY: There we go.

YOUNG MALE: I got it.

HANNAH GREGORY: Okay. We're going to put everything in a nice pile, so that it's nice and easy to clean up after.

KAYTE YOUNG: Kayte Young here. This is Earth Eats. And I'm back in the studio with Sarah Mincey and Hannah Gregory of Canopy Bloomington. You talked about what you use to set the priorities for where you're going to plant, when you're making decisions about where to do plantings, or who to do plantings with. Is it driven by the places that are in the most desperate need of a tree canopy? Or is it also somewhat driven by, who wants to partner with you? I'm thinking of churches and Eco-focused neighborhoods like Evergreen.

HANNAH GREGORY: Yes. I think there's two different aspects to the way that we do our outreach. One of which is that we do outreach to our priority neighborhoods or community organizations that are in these lower canopy areas. We also do outreach to organizations like schools, churches that are common meeting places that serve the demographics that we're interested in working with.

HANNAH GREGORY: For example, we're going to be doing a planting this weekend, three different church communities. And the way that I had initially reached out to them was one, they had interesting environmental issues. They have a longstanding history of solar panels and community gardens, so there was already that interest there in that community, which is important, because we know that those folks are going to be interested in the long-term care of those trees that we're going to plant with them.

HANNAH GREGORY: And then we also use the map. So, these three church communities were on a high priority designated area from our analysis, so that was the initial reason why I reached out to them.

SARAH MINCEY: I'm excited about the organization growing and adapting. We're only two years old right. So, we were initially all gang busters, by getting out into neighborhoods that were low canopy neighborhoods and potentially low socio-economic areas. Those were the ones that showed up obviously, on the analysis for priority. I knew this from my own research, and Hannah did too. Hannah's studied this kind of thing that, you can't just go into a neighborhood and expect that community members are going to be receptive necessarily, to an organization coming in to plant trees.

SARAH MINCEY: Particularly for communities that have other, bigger important issues that they're dealing with. If you're worried about transportation to work or getting food on the table or whatever, then probably one of the last things you're going to think about is helping, as a volunteer for anything, including tree watering, or something like that.

SARAH MINCEY: So, certainly don't give up on those communities because we're interested in that long term benefit, that we know that they can gain from trees. But it has to start with meeting basic needs first and going in and communicating with them and learning about what their needs are and, building trust with them and helping them connect with resources that are more of a priority for them, to be able to get to a point where we could actually plant with them.

SARAH MINCEY: So one of the interesting adaptations I think we've made as an organization, is to realize that if we've got money to put trees in the ground today, then we can work with some of these organizations like faith based organizations, or non-profitable organizations like New Hope, is another one, that we're working with, that serve these communities outside of the residential spaces that those individuals are in. And if they happen to also be in a low canopied area, perfect.

KAYTE YOUNG: Can we talk about Callery pears? Is that how you say that?

KAYTE YOUNG: So what is a Callery pear? What do they look like? What's the problem with them?

SARAH MINCEY: Callery pear were a really popular landscaping tree in Bloomington and also in cities across the mid-west. I think they started planting them in the 90s. Does that sound about right?

HANNAH GREGORY: Yes. There's a long history before that, of developing the cultivar.

SARAH MINCEY: There's a single cultivar, the Bradford Pear, that was being planted and it was a sterile tree, so it didn't reproduce. Then other cultivars of the pear tree began being planted. Then those different cultivars hybridized and then that's where we got to where we are now. So now we have all these escaped invasions from those once thought to be sterile landscape trees, in our natural spaces and in our wood lots, and along our roadways, and things like that. So, it's an invasive species which means that it's not native to the area, and then it also causes harm when trees reproduce outside of the specific landscape that they were initially planted in.

SARAH MINCEY: So, it is a really popular tree in Bloomington, fortunately. It's in the top five most popular species planted, at least in the public space. And then there's of course, thousands of others that are planted outside of the public space that weren't captured in the city's inventory. I live off of 446 and if you drive down that road in the Spring, it's just speckled with the white flowers. So, the white flowers are sort of the telltale sign of a Callery pear.

SARAH MINCEY: So, they flower really early. They're one of the first tree species to flower in the Spring. Shortly following, after the flowering of the Callery pear there's the Serviceberry which is native. They look sort of similar in their early stages, when there's no leaves on the tree yet. But Serviceberry's a native tree that produces delicious berries that are edible. So, Callery pears are really easy to spot, early in the Spring. And there's multiple campaigns going on around town, MC IRIS, Monroe County identifying and reducing invasive species. It was their species of interest last year and that's continuing to this year, where they're encouraging folks to reduce the Callery pears on their property. And I think they're doing like a free tree if you get rid of a Callery pear on your property.

SARAH MINCEY: And then the city also has a plan to reduce a number of Callery pears that are planted in a public space.

HANNAH GREGORY: I'll just add onto that, you said it perfectly that the harm, though, is what you generally hear about in terms of invasive species. That they dominate the landscape. And so, they don't allow for other native species to grow in these spaces. And if we don't have native species, then we don't have the plants to which our insects are adapted and our birds are adapted, and that kind of thing. So, the Eco-system effects from that. And, contrary to, you know, what you might think of with its name, a pear, it doesn't produce an edible fruit. So, all in all, probably not a good plant to have around.

SARAH MINCEY: Yes. And they're also very brittle. They have a very poor branching structure and so a lot of times after a big storm in Bloomington, when you're driving around a neighborhood that was once lined, or still is lined with Callery pears, you'll see that their branches will just break off. If you see a fallen tree after a storm, or a split tree, it's highly likely that it's a Bradford pear, especially if it's planted in the right of way.

HANNAH GREGORY: So I'm really happy that there are these campaigns, like MC IRIS is doing. I think the city of Bloomington and Indiana University have been slowly trying to remove them from the areas that they manage. The sooner we do that kind of thing, the sooner we can get a native tree in that space, where that Callery pear once was. And that means the sooner it gets large and starts to produce Eco-System services for us.

SARAH MINCEY: Yes, I think that's what's kind of hard is to see a bunch of them cut down, like along the B-line I know they took some out. And it's just hard to see a mature tree removed, because it's not replaced by a mature tree.

HANNAH GREGORY: I think that is one of the challenges of urban forestry. It's a long game, right. You are putting something in the ground, and it will be some time before you see it get to a size where it's actually producing a lot of benefits for people. But like I said, I think that there's an opportunity cost for every space we have a Callery pear in the ground, which never gets very big. They don't get that tall and they don't produce a very broad canopy.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yes, the kind of, cone shaped or something.

HANNAH GREGORY: Yes, often columnar. A lot of the benefits that come from urban trees come from the larger canopy trees, because you have more surface area, you're able to capture more precipitation so it affects storm water management more. The larger the canopy the more shade. So, the list goes on and on with what a larger canopy tree does. Besides the fact that you want it to be native, to benefit the Eco-system.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yes, and having native species, it sounds like it's also part of what you were talking about, with the resilience. Having species that are going to be able to adapt and last, and like you said, all the insects and other animals that rely on.

HANNAH GREGORY: Yes, and one of the interesting parts of that is, and I think this is what some folks might not understand, that sometimes we choose not to plant particular natives that have been a big part of our community urban forest. For example, Maple. Sugar Maple, Silver Maple, Red Maple. These all are in the top ten, 12 most abundant species that we have across the city. And there's a couple of problems. One, if you are dominating, you make up a huge portion of the urban forest. What happens when there is a pest that comes and targets that particular species, or genus. And if you wipe out all of that, and it was a big chunk of your urban forest, all of a sudden, you've lost a big chunk of your urban forest and Eco-System services that come along with it.

HANNAH GREGORY: That's what happened with Ash trees and Emerald Ash Borer. There's a long story of that. With Chestnut, Dutch Elm disease in Elm trees. Part of resilience is diversity. You have to have diversity. But the other issues with Maples are related to climate change. We are seeing what people are calling Maple decline. There's not necessarily one specific cause for this, we think it's a compound effect. A lot of it has to do with climate, precipitation and heat. But we're seeing a major decline in the health of our Maple trees. And so, we're starting to move away from planting those.

KAYTE YOUNG: I know that the Silver Maple is also something that the city is hoping to not plant more of and maybe remove some of the ones. Are there particular problems with a Silver Maple?

HANNAH GREGORY: Silver Maples are a really, really fast-growing tree. And generally, when you have a species of tree that grows really fast, it ends up being fairly brittle in structure. So, it's similar to the Bradford Pear, in the fact that it has poor form. And a lot of the branches that you see that will fall after a storm are generally either a Silver Maple or a Bradford Pear. Also, Silver Maples get massive. The ones that were once planted in the right of way, that strip of lawn between the sidewalk and the street, when they were planted, I don't think there was a whole lot of thought of how big those trees would get. And so now, a lot of the Silver Maples, they're pulling up sidewalks and things like that, because they shouldn't have been planted there.

HANNAH GREGORY: Read a really great article about Silver Maples are like the Coyotes of trees. They're kind of scrappy, generalist. They do well anywhere, they fill these niches and they have served a really good purpose. In the 60s when they were being planted, 70s when they were being planted and new developments, they produced shade really quickly.

SARAH MINCEY: Yes, and they're beautiful trees. If you see a Silver Maple just out in a field, they can get enormous. And so, they're really beautiful trees. But in the urban space, there needs to be some more thought about selection of right tree, right place.

KAYTE YOUNG: I wanted to give you a chance to talk about your Youth Tree Tenders Program.

SARAH MINCEY: We launched the program this past summer. It was funded by the Community Foundation of Bloomington in Monroe County, and it was in partnership with the City of Bloomington. The idea of the Youth Tree Tenders Program is to give High School aged kids a fulfilling outdoor role. So a fun summer job that they can get some professional enrichment from, and get their hands dirty and be able to learn about trees and the importance of them. So, the tasks that are associated with the Youth Tree Tenders Program is pruning, mulching, watering, root excavation, which is done to a lot of trees, because a lot of young trees are planted too deep, so you have to dig out the base of them, to help them thrive better. It's a really common problem in Bloomington because of our clay soils, that trees just sink in when you plant them.

SARAH MINCEY: This program worked out really well as a partnership with the City of Bloomington because the City of Bloomington had just established Switchyard Park and there are around 600 trees that are planted in that park and they are all very small, so they are not necessarily providing the shade that we would like to see from them yet. They require a lot of care. So, the young trees, the first three years in the ground they require a lot of water, mulching, formative pruning, removal of dead branches to avoid diseases and things like that, from getting into the young tree. So are providing the care to all those young trees in the park, which is great for the city of Bloomington and for Canopy Bloomington. The city of Bloomington is getting care for their young trees and we're able to provide this professional enrichment for High School aged students.

KAYTE YOUNG: How many folks are in that?

SARAH MINCEY: Last year we hired four kids. We're starting very small and this year we'll probably hire around the same, so four High School aged kids. Eventually we aspire this program to be similar to what keep Indianapolis beautiful, which is Keep America Beautiful affiliate. And in Indianapolis they have a huge urban forestry program, and they have something called a Youth Tree Team where they hire around 100 teenage kids. So, it's huge. They were really helpful in helping us format and develop this program. So, we're starting small, we have a very small team. The kids who were involved last year loved it.

SARAH MINCEY: Envision a Bloomington where we've got hundreds of High Schoolers out, helping us water those trees we planted in the Spring or the Fall, before. And we're growing that canopy quicker because, we have kids engaged in that work. And they're getting all of those mental and physical and social health benefits, from being engaged in stewarding the urban forest. I think that's another way that we're meeting our overarching goal.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yes and also just building that expertise. When you were talking about the root excavation, that just sounds so complicated and so scary. I would not dare to do that to my own trees. I think pruning is really complicated and hard to figure out on your own. So just building that knowledge base in the community of people who know how to tend trees.

SARAH MINCEY: Yes. And it also was really exciting because last year, one of our Youth Tree tenders, after the program ended, she was super super interested in continuing her engagement in the urban forest. So, for a project for her class, she did a really focused Semester long project on urban forestry. She then invited us to do a tree planting at her school, Bloomington High School South last Monday. That was really fun, there were around 50 to 70 students that were involved in planting those trees. It was cool to see that ripple effect.

HANNAH GREGORY: I think we know from being involved in this industry and from Board members, we have who work in Arboriculture that there's a really big need for a pipeline of young people to work in urban forestry and Arboriculture who want to be professionals. Unfortunately I think it's been considered maybe not a professional track for people, but it actually is, and they are looking for students who want to move from High School experiences like this, onto college, where they study something like Environmental Science, or they take my Urban Forest Management class, and then they move on to work with organizations like Bluestone and really treat it as the professional track that it deserves.

KAYTE YOUNG: Do you do any work or partnership with the Bloomington Community Orchard?

HANNAH GREGORY: The Orchard is a relationship that we would like to build. We get a lot of interest in planting fruit trees. And obviously like as a small organization, new organization, we're building our palette of trees that we offer to the organizations and neighborhoods that we plant with, and it's like a nice list of native species, generally deciduous hardwoods and not necessarily fruit trees. That's one of the relationships that I'd like to build out a bit more. I have to give a shout out to Burney Fischer, who's on our Board. I mentioned to him earlier, Professor [UNSURE OF NAME] from IU. When I was a graduate student with Burney, Amy Countryman wrote a thesis about how we should have a community Orchard here in Bloomington and that was the origin of our Orchard, that we all now enjoy so much. And Burney was the one who helped to guide me, to Urban Forest Management and I co-found Canopy, so I really think it's important to give that credit back to Burney, that a lot of this work has happened because he's been here in this community.

KAYTE YOUNG: When you were talking earlier about how tree planting is the long game. I've thought about that so much. Any time I've talked to anybody who's doing tree planting, nut trees in particular, that is really the long game. I know from my own experience with fruit trees, and then even when they do start producing, they may not be exactly the picture-perfect fruit you were hoping for. They're really hard to manage. I think trees in general, especially when you're talking about that canopy, when you're talking about the shade they provide and that beauty that they provide in a neighborhood, or in any kind of space, it requires a vision, and it requires putting effort into something that you might not benefit from. I'd love to hear you reflect on that a little bit, or just talk about that.

SARAH MINCEY: Let's be clear. They are green infrastructure. An urban forest can function in many of the same ways that gray infrastructure can. And it appreciates in value. It doesn't start falling apart, like concrete does. The minute you put in a pipe; it's starting to rust. Tree canopies grow over time, and as they grow, they produce more of those services. And so, it is the long game, but it's a good game to be playing. It's a good investment. The return is only going to grow. Whereas you have to continue to replace man made structures.

HANNAH GREGORY: I think the other thing is, is encouraging people to think long term. Because a lot of people may look at Bloomington and say we have a ton of trees, it looks really beautiful right now, we don't need more trees. But people don't necessarily understand that trees die, and they need to be taken out and replaced. And if that replacement isn't happening, then we're going to slowly continue to lose our canopy cover and it's not going to look the same as it does now, in ten or 20 or 30 years, if we're not actively and pro-actively planting trees to replace what we're bound to lose.

SARAH MINCEY: And we have evidence of that. One of the reasons that I started this organization was right after the city of Bloomington paid Davey Resource Group, the consulting group, to come in and do a canopy cover assessment of the city. They looked at canopy change over a decade and they found that it had declined. And we all know about the changes that are coming with climate change and they are here. Increased precipitation, larger storm events, more heat and drought in the Summer and Fall.

SARAH MINCEY: Our urban forest is challenged more than it ever has been. And so, in the last decade, if we saw decline, then we'll certainly see more decline unless, unless we're all doing our part, to contribute to growing.

SARAH MINCEY: Diversity is incredibly important to resilience and it's not just biological diversity, it's also social diversity. Urban forests are socio-ecological systems. We cannot separate people from the trees and other plants that grow in our city. So just as it's important to think about having lots of different species, that can each provide different kinds of functions and services both to the natural world and to different kinds of people, it's also important to have diversity in the kinds of people that are engaged in managing the urban forest. It's critical that we have community engagement in desiring trees, placing them and caring for them.

SARAH MINCEY: And that means age diversity, race, gender, whatever. All kinds of diversity. We want people to be engaged with us because then we know we're meeting our communities needs.

KAYTE YOUNG: That was Sarah Mincey and Hannah Gregory of Canopy Bloomington. Thank you both so much for talking with me, this has been really interesting. I feel like there's lots more to cover.

SARAH MINCEY: I really want to talk about all the edible things that you can do with trees, because this is Earth Eats [LAUGHS].


SARAH MINCEY: Yes. You can pickle the buds of Magnolia.

HANNAH GREGORY: Yes. They taste almost like ginger. It's almost like a cross between ginger and peppercorns. It has like a floral taste obviously. I pickled them in rice vinegar. They were really good.

KAYTE YOUNG: Is it like a fridge pickle, where you can eat it pretty soon?


KAYTE YOUNG: And it's the buds, not the blossom?

HANNAH GREGORY: You can pickle the whole flowers, but the buds are more substantial, because you can pluck them out, like a pickle.

SARAH MINCEY: So, if we can get this in the show, Canopy Bloomington has recipes, for tree stuff.

KAYTE YOUNG: I'll say that after this interview, I started noticing trees a lot more. I started noticing their size and guessing about how old they might be. And thinking about that long game. There's the old Chinese proverb, you may have heard it. The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.

KAYTE YOUNG: You can find more information about Canopy Bloomington on our website, Quick note, Hannah Gregory is no longer the forestry director for Canopy Bloomington, but she continues to serve in an informal consulting role.

KAYTE YOUNG: Thanks for listening. That's it for our show this week. We'll see you next time.

KAYTE YOUNG: The Earth Eats team includes Violet Baron, Eoban Binder, Alex Chambers, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Abraham Hill, Daniella Richardson, Samantha Schemenauer, Payton Whaley and Harvest Public Media. Special thanks this week to Sarah Mincey and Hannah Gregory and everyone at Canopy Bloomington. To the students and staff at Fairview Elementary and to the volunteers at Enterprise. The show is produced and edited by me, Kayte Young. Our theme music is composed by Aaron Toby and performed by Aaron and Matt Toby. Additional music on the show comes to us from Universal Production Music. Our Executive Producer is John Bailey.

A girl with a shovel, digging, adult male nearby and a small tree in a bag in foreground, a playground and large brick building in the background

A student works on digging a hole for a tree at Fairview Elementary School in Bloomington while a volunteer from Enterprise offers guidance. Canopy Bloomington organized this school planting event during the last week of school in May 2023. (Kayte Young/WFIU)

“A community is not resilient unless those benefits that we have from natural resources, like urban trees, are distributed in a way that all people are benefiting from them. And we do know that we have areas of the city that have lower canopy cover and some of those are associated also with lower income communities and marginalized communities.  And arguably those are the people [who] would be most benefited  by ecosystem services and the benefits of trees.”

This week on the show, a conversation with Sarah Mincey and Hannah Gregory of Canopy Bloomington, an organization dedicated to community engagement with the urban forest.

Sarah Mincey is a co-founder of the organization, and now serves as Vice President on their board. She's a Clinical Associate Professor at the O'Neil School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Director of the Integrated Program in the Environment and Managing Director of IU's Environmental Resilience Institute.

An ISA Certified Arborist, Hannah Gregory has served as the Forestry Director at Canopy Bloomington, and is currently an Associate Researcher & GIS Analyst at IU's Environmental Resilience Institute and a Tree Technician with IU Landscape Services.

Hanna Gregory with shovel and two boys digging in grass with a young tree on its side in the background
Hannah Gregory works with two Fairview students to prepare a the hole for a young oak tree. (KAYTE YOUNG/WFIU)

Engaging with the urban forest

Did you know that black locust trees are rot resistant, and therefore make great fence posts? Oak firewood burns slowly, while pine and cedar catch quickly and burn fast. Red bud flowers are edible, and mulberries are one of the first fruits to ripen here in Southern Indiana. 

There was a time in human history in which all of us would know these things (and more) about the trees that grow around us. We would need to know, for day-to-day survival. 

These days many of us suffer from what some arborists refer to as “tree blindness” 

We can’t identify the various species that grow around us, and we often don’t notice trees at all unless we need some shade on a hot sunny day–or a fallen branch has blocked the road after a storm.

Sarah Mincey kneeling with a gloved hand on the trunk of a small tree. A girl is also kneeling, putting dirt around the tree, playground and school building in the background.
Sarah Mincey works with a student to plant a tree at Fairview Elementary in Bloomington. 

My guests on today’s show hope to address our lack of tree-awareness.

They work with Canopy Bloomington, an organization with a mission to, engage the Bloomington community in planting and caring for our urban forest together, in order to build a resilient and equitably green city for all.

They organize community tree plantings based on data about which areas of the city are lacking tree cover. They also run a youth training program call Youth Tree Tenders where high school students get hand-on experience on tree care as a summer job, and help maintain the city's young trees. 

Hear more about Canopy Bloomington in this week's episode. 

Note: Here's the link to the Blossom Bathing experience I mentioned at Masumoto Family Farm in California's Central Valley. 

Music on this Episode:

The Earth Eats theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music on this episode from the artists at  Universal Production Music.

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