First-ever Tree Giveaway a great success
A line of people wait their turn to receive a tree during the Feb. 12 Tree Giveaway in San Antonio.
Master Gardener Raquel Barba-Garza was looking for a unique volunteer opportunity. She wasn’t disappointed when she showed up at the Pearl Brewery Farmers’ Market on Feb. 12 in San Antonio. The Texas Forest Service, the city of San Antonio, the San Antonio Food Bank, the Pearl Brewery, the Alamo Forest Partnership, the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, and the Bexar County Master Gardeners, in partnership, were hosting their first fruit and nut Tree Giveaway. It was just what she was looking for.
“It seemed like a fun event,” said Barba-Garza. “I was looking for something I hadn’t done before.”
For the Texas Forest Service and its partners, long-time proponents of maintaining a green canopy for the community, the free fruit and nut tree offer seemed a natural next step. As a matter of fact, City Arborist Mark Bird contends that the giveaway met many of the tree program’s goals.
“Fruit trees can be a sustainable food source,” said Bird. “The giveaway will make people think about trees in terms of other than shade trees. And it will give our landscape diversity.”
The thought of fruit trees as nourishment was on the minds of some of the tree recipients as well as those providing the trees. Although it takes at least one to three years for a tree to bear fruit, most people find trees easy to care for and the idea of fruit or nuts at their fingertips a treat. “I buy a lot of fruit from the farmers market. I try to buy organically. So after planting this tree,” Natalie Griffin said, “I plan to get some more. Pear or apple seems good.
“I’m originally from Wyoming. It’s a totally different kind of ground. Where I grew up we couldn’t grow much fruit, so I’m very excited about the fruit trees.”
San Antonio Master Gardeners and other volunteers handed out 330 trees ranging in height from less than 12 inches to 4 and 5 feet. The inventory included Mexican limes, lemons, peaches, plums, figs, walnuts, pecans, oranges, Texas persimmons, etc. The citrus, however, proved to be the fast movers; they were all gone within the first 45 minutes.
According to Texas Forest Service Regional Director Paul Johnson, prices for the trees, which came from a variety of sources, ranged from $12 to $50 depending on variety. The cost was borne by the city’s Tree Mitigation Fund, a pool of money maintained from developers’ and builders’ fees used to negate the cost of trees cleared for construction. The fund supports a variety of tree-planting programs that pay big returns.
“The city benefits an average of $20 a year per tree planted, or approximately $50,000 to $100,000 in terms of benefits in air quality, storm-water control, and food production,” Johnson said.
The city’s trees also impact the island heat effect which can be substantial during steamy Texas summers, serve as noise barriers that mute the city’s heavy traffic, and provide cosmetic appeal that often ups property values.
In addition, the giveaway presented yet another opportunity. City Forester Michael Nentwich used the occasion to speak to a captive audience. Individuals standing in line were briefed on an upcoming event, the Green Shade Program, another tree giveaway event featuring an energy rebate from electric power utility City Public Service for planting medium-size shade trees. Nentwich fielded questions from the tree recipients. Those households receiving a tree acquired educational materials including instructions for tree sowing.
As a bonus, Starbucks donated cups of coffee grounds that can be sprinkled around the trees to improve the nitrogen balance or that can be added to a compost pile. “People can call any Starbucks,” said Jackie Randall, North Star Mall Starbucks manager, “and the coffee grounds will be saved for you. We feel it’s better to give the grounds away than to send them to the landfill where they’re of no use.” The crowd welcomed the soil enhancer.
Judging from the number of people standing in line for a tree, there’s a strong possibility that the giveaway will become an annual event. Johnson anticipates that upcoming fruit and nut tree giveaways will be scheduled at various locations around the city to accommodate more residents.
Master Naturalist Rebecca Johnson never doubted the giveaway would be a huge success. Having volunteered at approximately 12 tree events, she is familiar with frequent requests from citizens asking for fruit and nut trees.
“Everybody always asked, ‘Do you have fruit or nut trees?’ So I knew they would go really fast,” Johnson said.
Indeed they did. All 330 saplings found a home quickly, leaving some folks to wait until next year to claim their favorite fruit or nut tree.
Margarette Chavez is a Bexar County Master Gardener.