Planting Trees, Planting Hope
by Eric Diekhans
For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Isaiah 55:12
A tree planting ministry seemed like an easy sell for Karen Chakoian, pastor of in Granville, Ohio. “Part of it is just their sheer beauty,” she says. “And part of it is knowing the politics of congregations. It’s really hard to argue against a tree.”
But 1,500 trees, in five years? That sounded like a stretch, but it didn’t stop the congregation from enthusiastically supporting Rev. Chakoian’s idea. The church already had an active Caring for Creation group, and became an Earth Care Congregation in 2018. Dr. John Weigand a member of the church, also led a discussion series in the Prism Sunday school class on climate change. Planting trees was the perfect place to turn discussion into action, and the Prism group decided to spearhead the effort. was born.
“I was a biology major many years ago,” says Rev. Chakoian, “and I read about trees mitigating global warming through carbon sequestration. We came up with this idea of planting trees as a congregation with the hopes that it would spread far beyond us.”
Carbon sequestration is the long-term removal, capture, or sequestration, of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to slow or reverse atmospheric CO2 pollution, and to mitigate or reverse climate change. According to the European Environment Agency, a typical hardwood tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. This means it will sequester approximately one ton of carbon dioxide by the time it reaches 40 years old.
“We initially started with Session,” says Amanda Love, a Deacon at First Presbyterian. “Then we expanded just within our church community, and really went strong. We did a lot of our communicating via Zoom talks. We marketed the concept by posting banners, emails, posters, postcards we would send out, and talking with people. at our local farmers market. The greatest effort was at Christmas. We created a large outdoor Advent-inspired lit tree installation. We gathered safely once a week during Advent around the trees and lights to lift up our church and community.”
Planting a tree isn’t as simple as digging a hole in the ground. It takes land, expertise, and donors. When 1500 Trees for Life kicked off in the Fall of 2019, Mike Flood, a local horticulturist and co-owner of , offered to supply trees at cost and handle the planting. An initial test planting of 25 trees purchased by 1500 Trees, the Prism class, and First Presbyterian’s Session, was scheduled for the original fall planting, with a full roll-out near Arbor Day. There was great deal of discussion about price points for donors. It costs $150 to plant a 6-8’ tree and $200 for a 12-15’ tree. If an interested donor can’t afford to buy a tree, friends and groups can chip in for one, or donors can make smaller amounts to equal a tree. Donors were encouraged to buy a tree in memory of a loved one, celebrate a high school graduate, honor a co-worker about to retire, or for almost any other reason.
Those first 25 trees were planted at Granville’s latest municipal building site. Donations and enthusiasm for the project mushroomed in Granville and the surrounding county. First Presbyterian Church was already well known because of their deep involvement in the community. People were eager to offer suitable space. Trees were planted in parks, cemeteries, on the grounds of a middle school, and along a bike and walking trail.
“It’s kind of like a ripple effect outside of the church, to Granville, to the next town to the county,” says Amanda. “We just recently stretched out to Newark, which is just to the east of us. There's a science history art museum there, The Works, and they had a partnership with the Smithsonian for a habitat exhibition.”
Choosing the right trees was also important. 1500 Trees plants tree stock that is native to the area, though what trees grow best might change over the next century. “Seed stock could be Appalachian,” says Amanda, “or it could span hundreds of miles south because it’s going to be a lot warmer here in 100 years.”
More recently, Carol Carpenter Apacki, a local environmentalist, spearhead of their Caring for Creation group, Earth Care Congregation efforts, and a Prism member, planted a new seed with the group. She suggested they create micro forests, tiny, dense forests that recreate the layers of a natural forest. “You start off with little shrubs, and little plants, and then you put in smaller trees,” says Amanda. “And then those trees grow. And maybe some of the lower plants die out. And then things start to grow up and they're more densely packed. So you're getting a bigger bang for your buck. Right now we’re dabbling in that and trying to see where that could go.”
When COVID slowed planting, the church decided to forego the original five year timeline, but they’ve still set their sights on the 1,500 goal. To date, over 270 trees have been planted.
“From a faith perspective, it was just phenomenal,” says Rev. Chakoian.
The members of 1500 Trees are eager to share the knowledge they’ve gained with other congregations, so the work of planting trees can spread far beyond their little corner of Ohio. If you would like to tap into their knowledge base, contact .
Eric Diekhans is a member of Lake View Presbyterian Church, a fiction author, and editor of Earth News.