Iowa City Press-Citizen: Groups Join Forces to Plant Trees

Sunday, October 16, 2011

By Mitchell Schmidt
Iowa City Press-Citizen

Jacob Frantz, 18, and Cornell Stringer, 15, carefully used shovels to dig a roughly 15-inch diameter hole in the ground that soon will become the home to one of 26 paw paw trees along the hill at Bob Braverman’s Friendly Farm in Iowa City.

The duo was among six City High students who teamed up Friday with 20 United Action for Youth students and volunteers with Bob Braverman’s Friendly Farm to take part in the Friendly Farm Erosion Control and Sustainable Growth Project. Members of the University of Iowa Engineers for a Sustainable World and Trees Forever also took part.

Those involved gained an insight into sustainability, learned more about the Iowa City farm and got their hands dirty planting paw paw trees.

Tom Braverman, City High special needs teacher and work experience coordinator, said the number of groups and organizations represented Friday was great to see.

“It was an amazing experience to see the very diverse group of people working together," Braverman said.

John Lee, a UI graduate student in environmental engineering and member of the UI Engineers for a Sustainable World, said the project originally was to take place on campus but soon evolved into a multi-organization, family farm sustainability project.

“It’s something that started out as a small campus project and turned into a huge farming project here,” the 25-year-old said. “I think it’s great that a lot of different groups are involved in it to maintain it, and I hope that this project elongates for many years to come.”

Students helped plant two rows of trees along the eastern hill of the farm’s property with the hopes that as the trees grow, they will prevent soil erosion and watershed, as well as provide an edible product.

Patrick O’Malley, with the Iowa State University Extension, described paw paws as a fruit somewhat similar in size and color to a large pear. They taste like a mix between a banana and melon, he said.

Funding for the paw paw project was provided by Marion-based Trees Forever’s GreenForce Grant. The nonprofit organization offered two $1,000 grants to Linn and Johnson county youth and outreach groups this year, with a third going to a student group at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, said Laura Roberts with AmeriCorps VISTA who was working with Trees Forever on the project.

Roberts said the UI Engineers for a Sustainable World’s project was chosen for the grant because it included students and individuals from all walks of life.

“We liked that it was on a farm whose focus was sustainability and that it involved both students from the college and the high school,” Roberts said.

Mark Signs, Trees Forever director of development and marketing, said this is the first year the GreenForce grant has been offered, but they hope to make it an annual occurrence.

“It was pretty well received, so I hope we get to continue to support this kind of activity,” Signs said. “We hope to be able to do it again next year and hopefully start earlier.”

Braverman said the project also marked a tribute to his brother, Bob Braverman, who died unexpectedly this year. Several trees have been planted in Bob Braverman’s honor at the farm.

“That just makes it more of a special occasion," Braverman said. “It’s one thing to give students real work experience, its another thing to have family members involved. It’s really special.”