From planting fruit trees in a Richmond, Calif., edible forest to laying 32 feet of boardwalk to make an Atlanta urban forest accessible to everyone, U.S. Forest Service employees across the country joined their communities to make a difference as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service.
The day honors the slain civil rights leader, who once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’ ” The Day of Service is part of United We Serve, President Obama’s national call for all Americans to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems.
In Atlanta, the still-in-its-infancy Atlanta Children’s Forest is part of a growing network of Children’s Forests funded in part by the Forest Service. The Atlanta program grew out of an existing partnership with the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance. The “forest” uses three land parcels in southwest Atlanta and helps urban youth make a connection to the natural world.
“We are reaching kids in their own neighborhoods rather than putting them on a bus and driving them two hours outside of Atlanta,” said Dennis Krusac, a Forest Service wildlife biologist who also coordinates the agency’s More Kids in the Wood program in Atlanta. “The program is a natural immersion: There is a forest in their backyard.”
Krusac said participants in the MLK Day of Service ranged from elementary students to retirees. He said they completed more work than anticipated when an unexpectedly large crowd arrived.
“I’ve done this for five years, and I’ve never seen a crowd this large,” he said. “We know there were at least 130, but there were so many people that many skipped the long lines to sign up to go right to work.”
In addition to building 32 feet of boardwalk, the volunteers pulled weeds, removed two unsafe play structures, treated one acre of land for invasive species, planted 20 hemlock trees, installed two kiosks at trailheads and worked on one mile of trail. They also cleaned a building used for environmental education and built five shelving units.
In California, a dozen employees from the agency’s Pacific Southwest Research Station in Albany, Calif., headed to Richmond, where they planted fruit trees, herbs and vegetables on the Richmond Edible Forest. They joined some 350 community volunteers who worked on multiple sites along the Richmond Greenway — a former three-mile rail byway bordered by 32 acres of community gardens, composting sites and recreational space in a densely populated, underserved community. They removed weeds, collected seeds and replanted garden beds.
For the past several years, station employees have collaborated on the edible forest with Urban Tilth, a nonprofit that promotes community agriculture in west Contra Costa County, by providing scientific expertise, as well as physical labor, to the project. The edible forest serves as an environmental education site where station scientists and Forest Service land managers teach kids about the benefits of trees and forested landscapes.
“To work shoulder to shoulder with members of the local community on the Richmond Edible Forest was thoroughly energizing!” said Pacific Southwest Research Station Director Alex Friend. “It’s heartwarming to see the enthusiasm and interest of the youth and longtime residents of Richmond as they connect their new urban forest.”
The project is a partnership between the Forest Service, Urban Tilth, the City of Richmond, and the West Contra Costa Unified School District. The partnership engages 700 underserved youth in education programs to learn how to install “edible forests” in Richmond parks and school areas.
The research station helped fund The Richmond Edible Forest Project through a U.S. Forest Service More Kids in the Woods program grant. The More Kids in the Woods program’s goal is to work with community partners to help America’s youth learn more about their local environment and careers in natural resources.
The Forest Service has a long history of partnerships with other government agencies, organizations, communities and individuals. The agency accomplishes much of its work through partnership and collaboration. In fiscal year 2010, the Forest Service entered into 8,147 grants and agreements with partners, who contributed $533.8 million; when leveraged by the agency’s $832.5 million, the total value of these partnerships exceeded $1.39 billion.