Nuggets of wisdom from our newest crew leaders

Crew Leaders huddle before a planting
Crew leaders huddle before a planting (FOT file)

By Andrew Land

We’ve done it again–another record-breaking season with 4,545 new street and yard trees planted through our Neighborhood Trees program and more than 24,000 trees and native shrubs planted through our Green Space Initiative in the Portland-Vancouver area. That’s more trees with more volunteer help than ever before, and there’s no way we would have done it without the help of our incredible volunteer leadership.

Our crew leaders play a vital role at our events by guiding planting volunteers through the process of putting trees in the ground. They’re essential to team building and help remind planters that we are a community-building organization whose success is measured in part by the number of trees we plant each year. Every fall and winter, we train new groups of assistant crew leaders who represent the future of our volunteer leadership.

Below are responses to questions asked of some of our most dedicated assistant crew leaders as they thought back on their first season planting with Friends of Trees.

What’s something you learned this season with FOT, either about trees, leading volunteers, or otherwise?

I learned not to underestimate the capabilities and desire of the youngest volunteers. The young kids I led this season were awesome and inspirational.  –Mary Kay Giersch (MKG)

I should start by saying that I am not historically much of a landscaper/gardener/plant person. I enjoy them all as a spectator but have little to no prior experience, so the whole idea of me spending a season helping put trees in their new homes was new and fun. I thought you guys did an awesome job of training us. I also enjoyed learning what an impact FOT has had on our local environment with the shear number of trees you guys have planted over the year. It’s astounding!  –Jae Larsen (JL)

It sounds pretty obvious, but the most important things I learned this season with Friends of Trees were the fundamentals of planting trees to ensure they have the best chances for success. From dealing with the various forms in which the trees are delivered to plantings (e.g., bare root, balled & burlapped, containerized, etc.) to determining the correct planting depth, to mulching, berm-building, etc., these were skills and knowledge I did not possess before the start of the planting season. –Steven Gray (SG)

One thing that I learned this year at Friends of Trees is that to really organize a group well, one has to make sure that everybody has a fun and continuous part in the project. –Leah Haykin (LH)

Do you have a favorite tree?  If not, how about a favorite planting site?

That’s like asking do I have a favorite child! My favorites are Dawn Redwood, Katsura, Parrotia, Ginkgo, Black Tupelo, Redbud, and Tulip trees.  –MKG

I have always been a huge fan of the cherry blossom. My other favorites are magnolias.  –JL

It’s hard to play favorites but if I had to pick one I’d probably go with a Garry Oak (Quercus garryana) since that is the only tree that has bothered to ask to become my friend on Facebook. My favorite planting site has to be the Collins Sanctuary for the Gift Tree plantings. I love the setting and like that the planting itself has special meaning to the volunteers beyond getting trees in the ground.  –SG

My favorite tree is the cherry blossom. Not only are they beautiful, but they’re a nice reminder that the winter is over, at least for another year.  –LH

Did you have any funny or exciting experiences this season during a planting?

I particularly enjoyed the plantings that included my three-foot-and-under army. I enjoyed putting the little bitty ones to work. We had more than a few tree naming sessions. There is a lovely elm in the Cully neighborhood who was officially dubbed “Fred” by it’s new three-foot steward. Long live Fred. –JL

My daughter Camryn thought it was funny when I slipped on mud while carrying two buckets of mulch on the hill in Collins Sanctuary and fell smack on my butush (that’s the Gray Family name for it). She asked me in the car on the way home if I could hear her laughing at me from the top of the hill. I could. –SG

I think the funniest thing that happened this year was when my crew and I accidentally planted a very tall tree with its branches still bound by string. Not wanting to de-plant and then re-plant it again, we performed some pretty ridiculous maneuvers to get those strings off. –LH

Any nuggets of wisdom for next year’s ACLs?

Mostly just to jump in and have fun. Be a good scout and leave the place cleaner than when you got there. And sign up for more than you think you can. The season goes fast, and you’ll be glad you did it. –JL

At the start of the season you might think that a ten-year-old pair of shoes held together with duct tape and roofing caulk and normally used to mow the lawn might cut it for plantings, but they do not. The investment I made in a new pair of boots was worth every penny. Plus, less teasing that way too. –SG

My biggest nugget of wisdom for future ACLs is really pay attention to your head crew leader. You will almost certainly learn something that you didn’t know before. –LH

Final thoughts?  Anything else you’d like to share?

I feel strongly about Portland’s need to diversify our urban forest.  I believe we have way too many maples, pears, ash, birch, cherry and plums.   FOT is in a unique position to significantly impact urban forest diversity.  –MKG

I have rarely had such a satisfying volunteer experience. FOT runs a tight ship and I really appreciate how well organized you guys are and how very respectful you are of your volunteers’ time. I never once felt like our time was being underutilized. You guys are really clear on what your mission is, and you do a fantastic job of executing. Very fun and rewarding to be even a small part of an organization that makes my city a better place to live. –JL

I really enjoyed the opportunity to get outside, meet new people, and volunteer in a meaningful way for a really well-run organization that I believe provides immense benefits to my community. It will be fun to revisit various planting sites over the next few decades to watch the progress of all the trees we planted this season and seasons to come.  Even more importantly, I was pleased to learn that my children also enjoyed planting right alongside me and that Friends of Trees was more than happy to have them help too. Even though this season is wrapping up, I’m already looking forward to volunteering with [my wife] Emma and my girls for the next planting season! –SG

Final thought: I love Friends of Trees! –LH

We’ll be training crew leaders for both our Green Space Initiative and  Neighborhood Trees programs again in November, so please email Andrew Land at [email protected] if you are interested in joining us next planting season.  We’d certainly love your support!

— Land is the Volunteer & Outreach Specialist with Friends of Trees.