A Homecoming 21 years in the Making

“So will you DJ?”

That’s what my brother Vikas asked me in the spring of 1993. He ran a student-run environmental club at our university called Organization for the New Earth (O.N.E.), which promoted green initiatives on campus and in the community.

He and fellow MUM student Belinda Hoole planned to launch the event, which was part fashion show, part creative musical celebration, and part treehugger project all rolled into one.

They called it Eco-Jam.

My brother needed someone to play the music for the show. He already knew I hunched over turntables every weekend, working as a DJ for our university’s Saturday night dances.

I thought about my brother’s request. Should I do it? The question spun around in my mind during my business classes, my spare time reading Billboard and Rolling Stone magazines and in between moments I’d be recording my mix tapes, which had piled up like dirty dishes in my dorm room.

I figured the whole thing was just a one-time event. Play the music, get a pat on the back, smile at the camera, flash the peace sign a few times and I’m done.

I said yes.

Several weeks later, I found myself in a humble looking Best Western banquet hall where the event was being held. There was a small stage set up and a white backdrop with a big Earth on it and Eco-Jam ’93 written above.

A few hours later, after the sound equipment and lighting were in place, I stood behind my “wheels of steel”, looked at the crowd and said: “It’s MC Double V on the M-I-C! Are you ready?” The stage lights went up. I raised the volume on Rhythm is a Dancer as it thumped through the speakers and a beeline of student models strutted down a makeshift catwalk, wearing a range of sustainable clothing outfits.

Contrary to what I thought, Eco-Jam wasn’t a one time thing. The success of the first event turned it into an annual gathering. In three years the event raised enough money to help O.N.E. plant thousands of trees throughout southeast Iowa.

Though the tree planting initiative faded a few years after my brother graduated (although it was revived in 2010 after a series of life-changing events), Eco-Jam (the catwalk part) continued to evolve and blossom.

 

We grew up and so did those trees.

 

21 years later, to the amazement of the original co-founders, it’s still alive and kicking! New students took over, other volunteers got on board and it’s become a city-wide event for organic and up-cycled fashion, attracting media, residents and designers from Fairfield, southeast Iowa and beyond.

It’s the end of 2014 and everything’s come full circle. Neighborhood Forest will be relaunching its tree program in southeast Iowa next spring. And we’re excited to be coming home!

Looking back, I realize how wrong I was. That one-time tree event I agreed to do for my brother in the spring of 1993? It’s not done. It’s just beginning.

Thought you might enjoy this video of our long-awaited Eco-Jam homecoming.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

 

 

Vivek Narula is the Director of Neighborhood Forest (@treesforkids– an organization that gives free trees to schoolchildren every Earth Day.

It’s Time to Boogie

Spring is here and everyone’s in a good mood. For instance, my front lawn must have a DJ spinning Top 40 hits. The grass has been dancing in the wind every day, free once again, no longer confined by a thick coat of snow, after what seemed like an ice age of being buried beneath it.The normally quiet birds that surround my yard have gone social media on me too, tweeting me their excitement every morning. I think they’ve even invited the tulips in my garden to start the season early because they’re already squirming their way through the soil to get their party hats on. I know in a few weeks they’ll be decked out, wearing red and yellow crowns, doing catwalks in my garden bed.

But this is spring, isn’t it? The season when nature comes alive again. We come alive again it seems, breaking ourselves from the winter blues (freak snow storms aside!) and slowly forgetting all our thoughts of snow shoveling, wind chills and polar vortexes.

Of course, apart from renewal and warmer weather (freak snow storms aside), there’s another reason we appreciate spring: Earth Day.

Yes, the time has come again to show our appreciation for this big, beautiful marble we call home.

I know it’s kind of funny, me appreciating the planet for one day on the calendar. Think about it: I’m given the day to appreciate our planet by our planet! She’s the one traveling a gazillion miles an hour through space, hula hoop dancing around the sun (not even taking a weekend off to get a massage or go on a yoga retreat), just so I can get 24 hours to remember her.

I don’t take her generosity lightly. I know whatever I do for the planet is like holding a candle against the sun. Tree planting activities are wonderful, but it’s a far smaller gesture of appreciation than what the planet gives me in return. What can you get for someone who provides you with air, water and food? An iTunes gift card?

Sure, planting trees through Neighborhood Forest is a small way to repay my debt and it’s making a tiny dent in my earth repayment plan. But I’ve been given a lot and it’s only fair, too, that I at least offer the planet a few extra days of appreciation.

Mind you, there are no plans to change the Gregorian calendar or lobby Congress to pass an Earth Day extension bill on the planet’s behalf. What Neighborhood Forest is doing is voluntarily extending its tree giveaway this year from April 21-29. Heck, we’re even giving trees throughout May! (By then the freak snow storms will be history too.) Anyway, I’m sure Gaylord Nelson, the late US Senator who founded Earth Day way back in 1970, won’t mind our transgression.

What’s more, the longer week allows for some flexibility with tree giving at the schools and with over 26 schools receiving trees this year (two of which are our first in the state of Illinois!), those extra days come in handy.

We’re happy more kids and trees will be making new friendships.

But what about our friendships with you? You. Yes, you the people who reside on this great planet with us: friends, family, parents, teachers, principals, sponsors. Can we thank you enough? We’re grateful for your support and participation this year. You’ve all helped make this year our biggest tree giveaway yet. It’s your turn to take a bow.

If Mama Earth had legs, I’d ask her to bow too. We need her support to get anywhere. We may supply trees and hands for planting, but she provides rain, air and dirt so our efforts are successful.

I’m grateful for the chance to do what I do. I’m grateful that I’m only a few days away from seeing those beautiful smiles on children’s faces again.

I know Mama Earth is smiling with us too. It’s spring after all, and she’s been waiting. She’s got the music turned up and her dancing shoes on.

 

Vivek Narula is the Director of Neighborhood Forest (@treesforkids– an organization that gives free trees to schoolchildren every Earth Day.

Wafting Over the Airwaves

Happy 2014! Hope you had a wonderful holiday season and your year is off to a great start.

Jack Frost must be proud of himself. The year’s barely started and he’s already showing off, getting all the attention with record-breaking temperatures and snowfall that’s made even the most fashion-conscious people bundle up, wear snow pants and waddle around like penguins. On the other hand, I snubbed my nose at Mr. Frost and decided to ditch the penguin pants for a pair of lederhosen.

At least it felt like I did. The hills recently were alive with the sound of music. Okay, Julie Andrews wasn’t with me and I wasn’t near any hills, but there was music and conversation in the air, and I was definitely alive.

Neighborhood Forest had a show on KFAI that was filled with the sound of tree-themed music, including a song called Breathing Trees from Minnesota native singer/songwriter Barbara McAfee, and chats with special guests from Lake Harriet School and Seward Community Co-op who talked about their participation in our program.

My brother and founder of Neighborhood Forest, Vikas Narula, spoke about the organization’s past, its vision for the future and the bed-ridden epiphany that made him put trees and children together 4 years ago. No yodeling was involved.

If you missed it you get a second chance to hear it again, even the bloopers — the sound of a disconnected phone, my song segue into a sudden station announcement and other unexpected laughs the whole family will enjoy.

Click on the link below to go to the KFAI website. If you like it, feel free to share. It’s online for a few weeks.

Danke.

http://kfai.org/node/41041

Vivek Narula is the Director of Neighborhood Forest (@treesforkids– an organization that gives free trees to schoolchildren every Earth Day.