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Finding Historic and Utilitarian Trees in Your City

Back in approximately 1990, I bought a $3 zine entitled "Beyond Blackberries," at an anarchist pizza shop called "Morningtown," in Seattle. "Beyond Blackberries" is a zine that catalogued the nut and fruit trees on public land in the Seattle area. The zine includes information about parks department contacts to ask about pesticide spraying in the area, etc. You can see the same line of thinking going on with the Tree People in Los Angeles, who plant fruit and nut trees in poorer parts of the city, and also facilitate community workshops on how to maintain the trees so they will live long and bear as much fruit as possible. There is no reason that cities have to be sterile, void of trees with fruits and nuts. You could even plant a medicinal herb garden on public land as has been done on the University of Washington campus. I have no idea why urban areas were designed to look like prisons, with so much concrete and so many fences, but trees can really put life back into these concrete canyons. Imagine walking down the street and smelling lemons, or being able to grab apples at all the local parks. Livability needs to be part of our urban vision, and trees make everything more livable. They lower the temperature of our cities, and if nut and fruit trees are planted, they can feed the hungry.
Finding Historic and Utilitarian Trees in Your City
By Kirsten Anderberg (www.kirstenanderberg.com)

Back in approximately 1990, I bought a $3 zine entitled "Beyond Blackberries," at an anarchist pizza shop called "Morningtown," in Seattle. "Beyond Blackberries" is a zine that catalogued the nut and fruit trees on public land in the Seattle area. The zine includes information about parks department contacts to ask about pesticide spraying in the area, etc. You can see the same line of thinking going on with the Tree People in Los Angeles, who plant fruit and nut trees in poorer parts of the city, and also facilitate community workshops on how to maintain the trees so they will live long and bear as much fruit as possible. There is no reason that cities have to be sterile, void of trees with fruits and nuts. You could even plant a medicinal herb garden on public land as has been done on the University of Washington campus. I have no idea why urban areas were designed to look like prisons, with so much concrete and so many fences, but trees can really put life back into these concrete canyons. Imagine walking down the street and smelling lemons, or being able to grab apples at all the local parks. Livability needs to be part of our urban vision, and trees make everything more livable. They lower the temperature of our cities, and if nut and fruit trees are planted, they can feed the hungry.

The University of Washington Medicinal Herb Garden (nnlm.gov/pnr/uwmhg/) is the largest and oldest in the western hemisphere. It includes not only medicinal herbs, but also medicinal shrubs and trees, such as Wintergreen berry shrubs and Camphor Laurel trees. The garden was begun by the University of Washington Pharmacy School in 1911, to teach pharmacy students about the diverse range of medicinal plants that could be used for medicines. The garden reached its height of utility in the 1940's and then began to decline in size and funding. As industrialized medicine moved onto campus, the garden fell into disarray and now a combination of volunteers, and a small UW staff, attend to the garden. But it is an interesting role model for medicinal gardens. If I had not seen the UW Medicinal Garden, I probably would never have thought of planting one.

The garden is on approximately two and a half acres. All the plant beds have raised labels on them, so you can see, up close and in person, a wide variety of medicinal plants, growing and labeled, in winter and summer. That is truly an educational community resource. The garden also displays medicinal trees, such as the Cascara tree, which was used to treat arthritis and constipation. The garden collection includes licorice, and stevia plants, which have leaves that taste like sugar. The idea of this garden is not to grow plants for community consumption, but rather it is a living, growing museum, of sorts, in an outside laboratory. It is a place to learn about plants, not gather plants for personal use. But the idea of using public land for educational medicinal gardens such as these is a good one.

The Tree People (www.treepeople.com) in Los Angeles have been setting the bar for responsible urban horticulture for 3 decades now. They remind us that there is a living ecosystem under all that asphalt and concrete, and that we need to liberate it! They have cited the following reasons we need to reforest our urban areas: trees clean our air and water, they reduce city heat, they improve living habitats for animals and children, they help repair burn areas and help reduce landslides and flooding, they help reduce reliance on fossil fuels for air conditioning by providing shade for a house when planted in proper positions, and can provide food too. They say that when the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles was full of orchards, not houses and freeways, it was cooler. And rural areas now, that are outside of the Valley, are 5-10 degrees cooler. It seems the air is cooler where the land can breathe.

The Tree People do a lot of community education about the selection of the right trees for the right places, and the proper care of different trees. But my favorite project of theirs is their planting of fruit and nut trees to promote "food security by increasing the self-reliance of low-income communities." The Tree People also network with the local food banks and community organizations, so no fruit from trees they plant go wasted. According to the Tree People's website, they have distributed 50,000 trees that locally produce tons of fruit each year for some of Los Angeles' most barren neighborhoods. And in the 1980's, TreePeople flew 6,000 fruit trees to 6 African nations, teaching them about tree care and helping fight rampant famine. Due to their superior work, the survival rate for those trees in Africa was an almost unprecedented 80 to 90%. Studies show that government-planted trees on Los Angeles streets have a 30% survival rate. Trees planted with the assistance of TreePeople have a 93% survival rate, due to the education of the community about how to take care of their trees and the community involvement with the trees. Additionally, community-based trees do not routinely suffer from neglect or vandalism as they are community investments.

When I was doing the article on the Medicinal Herb Garden recently, I ended up interviewing a writer and tree expert named Arthur Lee Jacobson (www.arthurleej.com/). He reminded me of the "Beyond Blackberries" book I bought so long ago, as he has been cataloging trees in the Seattle area for decades now. His website has many useful articles that catalogue trees in local Seattle neighborhoods, such as "trees of Woodland Park Zoo," "special trees in Ballard," "remarkable trees of Queen Anne and Magnolia," "trees of Volunteer Park," "Special Capitol Hill trees," "special trees of Greenlake," etc. He also has pages about "trees in cemeteries," Seattle's tree history, moss information, "searching for big trees," native plant gardening, and more. He has written a book on over 500 wild plants in the Seattle region, from "woods to alleyways."

I mentioned the book "Beyond Blackberries" to Arthur, and he said, "Oh yes, I was an advisor for that book." I was stunned. I have never met anyone who had seen that book when I have mentioned it in the past. He gave me the author's phone number, and before I knew it, I was on the phone with David Gould, author of that zine I never forgot, from so many years ago. David lives in Bellingham, Wa. now. That zine taught me to this day where the best fruit and nut trees on public land in the Seattle area are. He said he only printed 2,000 copies of the zine and that he published it sometime around 1990. We both agreed there was a need for an updated second edition of this zine.

I think that all of these sources are good role models for things we can do in our own communities now to address hunger and upgrade the quality of life simultaneously. The idea of cataloguing all the fruit and nut trees in your city on public lands, and calling the proper officials to check on their pesticide situation, etc. is a good one that could be done in any city. The idea of planting fruit and nut trees and educating the community in their care, such as the Tree People do, in the lowest income areas of your town, is a great community service that anyone could do in their own town following the Tree People's model. You can make a medicinal herb garden where people can come see medicinal plants, alive and growing, with proper identification, which is a great educational resource to have in one's community. Medicinal gardens make good places for school field trips to widen our kids' horizons. Arthur Jacobson also sets a phenomenal example of what can be done by paying attention to one's green surroundings in your own city. By writing down walking tours of special trees in your city, as Arthur does, you encourage people to go out and walk, getting out of their cars. And you encourage them to appreciate the trees around them. All of these ideas help to detoxify the city experience a bit, and all of them could be done in any city, by people with limited funds, with proper community organizing.
 
 


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