Dedicated volunteers of The Greening of Detroit prepare to plant a tree in the Brightmoor neighborhood last November.
Photo courtesy of The Greening of Detroit’s Facebook page
Imagine something as majestic — yet simple — as a tree being planted in the city of Detroit. Over time, its roots stretch deep into the packed soil of neighborhoods, parks and other urban landscapes — while those who planted them (and others who benefit) are growing, too.
Through urban forestry, forests in urban settings like Detroit are making an impact. According to American Forests, the oldest national nonprofit conservation organization in the United States, over 140 million acres of America’s forests are located in cities and towns, and these trees provide important benefits for humans and improved habitats for urban wildlife.
Trees in urban landscapes are so critical that others like artist SZA and the TAZO tea company recently joined forces to help urban cities across America get in on urban forestry. Through a new program, TAZO Tree Corps, they are looking to hire and educate people, especially from Black communities, on how to add trees to their neighborhoods.
That’s because low-income communities and Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities typically have fewer trees than wealthier, predominantly white, neighborhoods. These inequities – and the resulting disparities in essential health and economic benefits trees provide – have inspired the two to team up to address climate justice. The launch of TAZO Tree Corps features a paid, locally hired workforce that will use tree planting and maintenance to help combat climate change and create new jobs in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and communities of color, according to the company.
Devon Buskin, Workforce Development director of The Greening of Detroit, an urban forestry program, told The Michigan Chronicle that the project is working with The Greening’s own efforts to plant and reforest Detroit. Since 1989, the organization has planted over 130,000 trees throughout the City of Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park.
The Greening operates with two program areas: green infrastructure and workforce development. Green infrastructure focuses on environmental education, reforestation in the city, tree planting and more. Numerous programs focus on youth employment, and the introduction of green-collar career pathways through science, urban forestry and the environment.
The organization’s tree planting initiative involves volunteers, community residents and others who plant trees.
“These are all volunteers that have come to help step up,” Buskin said, adding that it is a “big responsibility” of theirs once a tree is planted to maintain it over the next three years by watering, pruning, securing the tree and more. “Making sure it survives for those roots to take hold in the ground.”
Buskin said that the SZA and TAZO partnership with The Greening is “huge.”
“It is great news to be offered to work with TAZO, American Forests, and [more],” Buskin said. “We are firm believers of collaboration … knowing urban forestry is key to survival, it is a win-win.”
The TAZO Tree Corps’ new urban forestry workforce will train and employ local fellows from low-income communities to plant and care for trees in the neighborhoods that need them the most. Targeting five cities, the project is launching this spring in Detroit, Minneapolis and the San Francisco Bay area. In 2022, the corps will expand to Richmond and the Bronx.
“I can’t tell you how many children I’ve met in the urban community, from all different colors of Black and Brown, that really just are not comfortable being in nature,” the 30-year-old SZA told BAZAAR.com in an interview, “I think the biggest takeaway from this is that quality of life and racism are so directly connected.”
American Forests’ urban work focuses on achieving Tree Equity, a vision for all people in every community to receive the benefits that trees provide, regardless of income, race or location. To determine which neighborhoods need trees the most, they have also developed the Tree Equity Score, a tool based on several factors, including a neighborhood’s tree cover, income, race and employment. The same neighborhoods with the highest need for trees also tend to have the highest unemployment.
“The climate crisis is no longer a future problem – it’s here now and BIPOC communities are disproportionately at risk,” said Laraine Miller, president, Unilever Tea Americas, which owns TAZO. “Climate change is not only an environmental issue but also a human rights issue, so we’re getting started by focusing on the racial injustices that must be addressed to make meaningful progress within the climate crisis.”
“By partnering with TAZO to create the TAZO Tree Corps, we are taking a major step forward in American Forests’ path to achieve Tree Equity,” said Jad Daley, CEO and president of American Forests. “We are building a national movement to ensure that every neighborhood can experience the healing power of trees while also helping create green jobs that benefit people in socioeconomically disadvantaged communities.”
In each of the five cities, the TAZO Tree Corps will select five fellows who will take part in two to three weeks of paid urban forestry training before transitioning into full-time employment with The Davey Tree Expert Company, a nationwide tree-planting and care business. Tree Corps members will also be trained in climate justice advocacy. As part of the program, grassroots tree groups in each area will provide a range of support services, such as helping Tree Corps fellows navigate barriers to retention like transportation and childcare.
Many cities currently have a shortage of people qualified to care for trees and the need is expected to grow. Urban forestry will see a 10 percent increase in job openings for entry-level positions through 2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many of those jobs will be for planting, trimming and pruning trees. Nearly 25 percent of the people who will fill these jobs will likely be self-employed, so this type of opportunity can set the stage for entrepreneurship, improved economic mobility and a better quality of life.
“The TAZO Tree Corps will help us turn this work into new economic opportunity for people from disproportionately impacted communities,” said Sarah Anderson, American Forests’ director of Career Pathways, a program designed to get more people from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds into urban forestry careers. “We hope to replicate this comprehensive approach in cities nationwide and help create healthier neighborhoods and increase career opportunities in communities with the most need.”
For more information visit https://www.americanforests.org/about-us/tazo/.
For more information on The Greening of Detroit visit https://www.greeningofdetroit.com/.