Louisville Grows believes in the healing properties of trees. As Executive Director of the local non-profit, Ked Stanfield said he likes to tell people that “if you have a problem, it’s likely trees could be one of the answers to fixing it.” Planting trees is one of the core activities at Louisville Grows, and while people love the aesthetic quality of more trees, they may not realize that more trees = increase in people’s health outcomes, said Stanfield.
“Trees produce oxygen, filter contaminants in the air, soak up storm water, lower air pollution and keep your house cooler, lowering energy bills,” he said. “Trees also keep our city cooler which with climate change becoming more and more of an issue, is important,” said Stanfield. “When communities are hit with heat waves, neighborhoods with lots of trees have less severity of health problems from the heat.”
The simple mission statement of Louisville Grows reflects its emphasis, no matter what the program or activity entails: Growing Greener, Healthier Neighborhoods.
After being involved with Louisville Grows as a volunteer, and then a board member, Stanfield became executive director in 2013. He wanted to make sure the word health was at the forefront of everything the non-profit did. “We were already doing this work, but we were not saying we were doing it to increase people’s health outcomes,” said Stanfield. “That’s one thing that I brought to the organization – shifting our focus to make sure to communicate the health aspect of what we do. We updated the mission statement to include the word health, and let people we are working with – our partners and funders – know that even though what we do is plant trees, we are a health-focused organization,” he said.
With tree plantings held three to four times a year, the organization focuses at the neighborhood level to reach out to those who need to increase their tree canopy. “The city of Louisville did an aerial survey of the tree canopy in 2015 and that’s the data we used to identify where we plant trees,” said Stanfield.
This includes many neighborhoods in West and South Louisville, including Shelby Park/Smoketown where Louisville Grows just completed a tree planting in early March, and the upcoming Chickasaw neighborhood on April 6. With just four paid staff and four Americorps VISTA workers, the typical Louisville Grows tree planting requires 130 to 175 people, so volunteers are essential.
The Citizen Forester program is one way to build in a growing cadre of volunteers for their efforts, according to Stanfield. The program is a one-day class offered three to four times a year that gives a primer course in planting trees so those volunteers can become leaders for other volunteers on tree planting days. “We give them more information about the communities we work in, and some leadership training,” said Stanfield. “The second part of the day is a hands-on tree planting demonstration led by an arborist. When tree planting event day comes, we have 30 to 40 citizen foresters there to lead the tree planting for our general volunteers,” he said.
Beyond tree planting, Louisville Grows currently works with about 15 to 20 community gardens in Louisville and has given micro-grants for some gardens to provide soil, wheelbarrows or other tools and technical assistance.
The non-profit also facilitates health and sustainability education at Healthy House in Portland, allowing both community groups and participants to use the space for free. Classes are as varied as Sprouting Kids cooking classes to weekly yoga classes but all have some focus on healthy living, healthy eating, food justice or environmental education.
They also host a monthly documentary film series, a quarterly art show and an annual 17-week Urban Homesteading series for people to learn about backyard gardening and growing their own food.
With this wide scope of activities, Stanfield said it still all comes back to living greener and healthier lives. That is something Lisa Dettlinger, Program Director at Louisville Grows, said she is passionate about. “Jefferson County has one of the highest rates of asthma, and suffering from asthma myself, I know what it feels like not to be able to breathe. We need to be able to breathe clean air – that’s why planting trees is really important to me personally.”
Stanfield said the University of Louisville is currently conducting a first of its kind study called Project Green Heart that hopes to show a direct correlation between health outcomes and trees. “This study hopes to show that ‘this many more trees make people this much healthier,’” he said.
The health study is planting trees in the neighborhood and following up with residents over the years to see if their health outcomes improve with the only intervention being more trees. “It is very exciting because more data that says trees are important means it will get people on board with planting trees,” said Stanfield.
The executive director said his vision for Louisville Grows is to get to the point capacity-wise and funding-wise to plant 1000 trees a year, a goal they met last year between the 521 trees the organization planted and the 550 trees they gave away that were planted by residents in Jefferson County. He wants to continue with the goal of 1000 trees planted annually.
Corporate teams from GE and Humana participated in the March tree planting, and Stanfield said he would love to see more corporations get involved with Louisville Grows, whether it’s financially or by providing volunteers. “We would love to see more Louisville-based corporations support tree canopy initiatives; and of course, we always need more volunteers,” said Stanfield.
At the end of the day, Dettlinger said that Louisville Grows is about improving the lives of the residents of the community. “I believe everybody deserves to be able to access healthy food, and to dwell in a safe and healthy environment.”
Volunteer opportunities for Louisville Grows include tree planting (next planting is April 6 in Chickasaw), canvassing neighborhoods, helping with community gardens, support for tables at fairs or special events, citizen forester classes and more.
For more information about all Louisville Grows events and activities, you can visit the website or sign up for the monthly newsletter at louisvillegrows.com