In response to over 600 street trees being planted in Greenpoint over five years, the Greenpoint Tree Corps is spearheading a summer Adopt-a-Tree program for volunteers to help get involved with maintaining the community’s new urban forestry.
For Sarah Balistreri and Acacia Thompson, both citizen pruners who started Greenpoint Tree Corps to connect volunteers with opportunities to maintain local street trees, the idea for the new program grew out of conversations about participatory budgeting grants.
“Our council member Stephen Levin does participatory budgeting, so one day we were kicking around the idea of ‘If we were trying to come up with a project to fund through a participatory budgeting grant, what could that look like?’” Balistreri explained (the project would go on to be funded by Levin despite the pandemic interfering with participatory budget grant voting).
The answer to that came in the form of supporting all of the new neighborhood trees planted in the area via the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund (GCEF), a pool of money servicing North Brooklyn as a result of lawsuits against oil companies after the years-long oil spill in Newtown Creek. Greening Greenpoint, the name of the tree-planting initiative started by GCEF, also provides tree guards and supplementary tree beds. The project has since wrapped up in 2019 with the last tree being planted in Transmitter Park.
“Greenpoint has a long history of environmental degradation, and as a result it also has an incredibly active and impassioned community of activists who have fought for a long time to make Greenpoint green,” Balistreri said. “We really see efforts like this, and new members of the community coming into volunteer efforts like this, as a really important part of this long line of fighting for the community. So we’re really thrilled that we have this small grant to not only support our urban forests, but to also bring more folks into this sphere of volunteer work and educate them about how these efforts are not new.”
As per a New York City Parks Department forester named Bill Schmidt who Balistreri and Thompson met through Greening Greenpoint, the biggest need to maintain the new street trees is water. Adopters are tasked with selecting a tree to take care of, watering the tree one to four times a month throughout June, July, and August (with a provided 15-gallon Tree Gator watering bag); removing any litter and cultivating the soil, and recording care activities via Google Form.
So far, the response has been positive, accounting for ⅔ of adoptable trees being claimed in the early stages of the program. Balistreri partially credits the rise of mutual aid and emphasis on giving back to your local community throughout the pandemic for the aforementioned enthusiasm.
“I think as we all spent all of this time more grounded in our physical geographic location of where we live that it did create stronger bonds and a stronger impulse for people to get to know neighbors and get more involved in a hyperlocal way,” Balistreri said.
Greenpoint Tree Corps also offers support and office hours to volunteers, as well as urging them to get creative and connect with neighbors if they need help. And when it comes to supporting Greenpoint’s urban forestry, any amount helps.
“We’re going to do the best we can,” Balistreri noted. “We want [volunteers] to feel and understand that giving any level of support to these trees is helpful and they don’t have to be perfect. Even if they end up doing is cultivating the soil and making sure the tree beds are free of litter and maybe planting some bulbs when we get to the fall, that’s also helping the tree tremendously.”
For those hoping to adopt a tree, register and read more details here. The next date to pick up tree-care kits will be this Saturday, June 19, at the McCarren Park Pool entrance.