We Boogied Down!

Posted on May 18, 2014 by vnarula

Yes, we got our groove on with Mama Earth this year. Two states.  26 schools. Nearly 2500 trees planted.

A big thanks to all our wonderful sponsors who made it possible.

Of course, a big thanks goes out to our participating schools, our incredible school coordinators, the teachers, the parents, and, of course, the children. Your support and participation helped make this year’s tree giveaway our best one yet!

Stay tuned. We’ve got more in store for 2015.  More schools joining us, more trees to be given away and more smiles to bring to the kids.

We hope you enjoy some of these highlights from Earth Week 2014!

It’s Time to Boogie

Posted on April 19, 2014 by vnarula

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.

Can Mindfulness Make Us Greener?

Posted on November 9, 2013 by vnarula

I compost, recycle, eat organic, use compact fluorescent light bulbs, own a hybrid car, have an electric lawnmower, shop at a co-op, and hug trees in my yard when neighbors aren’t looking.

I know I can do more. For instance, I don’t have solar panels on my roof, don’t have a composting toilet and I don’t dry my laundry on a clothesline. (I’m not interested in having my skivvies wave to the neighbors.)

It’s a good thing Thich Nhat Hanh isn’t grading me. I’ve been reading his latest book, Love Letter to the Earth, and if he was my school teacher and this was a green exam, he’d give me an F. (He’s a compassionate being, so he might bump it up to a C+.) It’s not that I’m not trying, but according to him I’m missing the most important green item from my list: my mind.

Fortunately, I’m not in elementary school. And as a world famous peace activist and Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh’s too busy to mark school papers. But his point is well taken. Can my mind — the pink, mushy thing lodged between my ears — make me a “greener” person through the simple practice he calls mindfulness?

Thich Nhat Hanh describes mindfulness as living with full awareness with all that is happening inside us and around us, non-judgmentally, from moment to moment.

I do get moments of lucidity, but my mind can quickly swing from tranquility to a hamster wheel on steroids. My awareness gets lost when my mind whirs over trifling things: an unexpected credit card bill, weeds on my lawn, a zit.

This is precisely the problem. My mind, according to Thich Nhat Hanh, is a teenager with the keys to dad’s car. It’s doing whatever it wants – donuts in parking lots, speeding down one-way streets, knocking out hydrants, flipping over fruit carts, scaring old ladies at crosswalks.

I need to get the keys, put the car on cinder blocks and keep it in the garage. To do this I need to stay present and say firmly, “Sorry mind. No more Justin Bieber concerts. No more trips to the mall. You’re grounded.”

If I don’t develop a deeper level of awareness and let the mind go unchecked on its wild, crazy adventures, I create the space for negative and destructive tendencies to arise — anger, hatred, jealousy – all the qualities seen regularly on reality television.

Dr. Stephanie Kaza, a Professor and biologist of Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont, and the author of Mindfully Green, says a deeper awareness is key to reverse our environmental situation: “Much of our ignorance about environmental degradation is the result of not seeing, not smelling, not tasting, not hearing, and not feeling the deeper impacts of environmental suffering. We are too busy or perhaps too afraid to pay attention to what is going on.”

Mindfulness brings our attention back to what is going on around us and within us. Through continued practice, Dr. Kaza says we gain a deeper awareness of ourselves and of the interdependence of life and nature. When this awareness grows, we will naturally want to live a more greener lifestyle.

People in lab coats agree. Research has shown mindfulness not only reduces negative behavior patterns, but it can actually help a person develop qualities that form the basis of interdependence and connection like empathy and compassion. In other words, mindfulness practitioners would never be seen on an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

Environmentalists like Bill McKibben have praised Dr. Kaza’s work, saying it is of “immense value to anyone looking for ways to live less in opposition to the forces of nature and community.” David Suzuki has said of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings: “We need this great wisdom if we are to move from our destructive path.” Dr. Suzuki has even had talks with Thich Nhat Hanh to discuss how this wisdom can be used for collective awakening.

What does this all mean for our planet and a greener lifestyle?

It gives us hope. More importantly, it gives me hope. While I look to green myself on the outside, Thich Nhat Hanh reminds me to stay green inside – to keep my mind present, peaceful and clear. If I want to be happier and have the Earth give me bear hugs and high-fives, I need to grow in compassion and empathy, to slow down, soak up life in this moment and listen to what the environment is saying to me.

If I can do that, only then will I deserve an A.

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

Earth Day is Coming. The New Hires are Waiting.

Posted on April 6, 2013 by vnarula

“Mr. Finneas, your 9 am is here.”

“Send him in.”

Door creaks open.

“Come in, come in. You must be Mr. Quercus Alba.”

“Yes, sir. But you can call me Bob.”

“Sure Bob. Please have a seat.”

“I prefer to stand, sir.”

“Sure. Look, Bob, we reviewed your resume and here’s what we think: it’s outstanding. Graduated top of your class. Strong commitment to community service. Ivy League.”

“It’s actually oak, sir.”

“Right. What’s more, you have an impressive skill set.”

“Well, it’s nothing really…I…”

“Nothing? Produce oxygen, improve air quality, clean the soil, control noise pollution, slow storm water run off, provide shade, act as a windbreak, fight soil erosion…”

“Create spreadsheets.”

“Really…I…didn’t…”

“Kidding.”

“Right. Look Bob, your skills are great, but we’re concerned about our bottom line here at Finneas and Fir, and well, you know…”

“Money doesn’t grow on trees, right?”

“Right.”

“Wrong, sir. I increase property values too.”

“Really?”

“Second page, sir, under additional qualifications — next to eye for detail.”

“Right. Well, I think that settles it. Congratulations Bob. You’re hired. Now if we only had more overachievers like you on board, we’d be able to cut out some of the deadwood around here.”

“Excuse me, sir?”

“Figure of speech.”

“Oh.”

If trees were employees, anyone would hire them. They are great workers. They don’t take vacations, they work long hours and definitely don’t embarrass themselves at office parties.

Like any great worker, they impact the environment around them. The roles that trees play in our neighborhoods and our communities directly affect the quality of our air, water and soil. What are some of those roles?

Trees make our lungs happy by cleaning the air. They take in carbon dioxide through their leaves and give off oxygen we need to breathe. A mature tree pumps out as much oxygen in one season as 10 people will inhale in an entire year.

When there’s rain, a tree’s roots help hold soil in place to prevent erosion, which not only saves soil but also keeps our streams, rivers and lakes cleaner.

“Trees, these wonderful stewards of the Earth, deserve our appreciation. On April 22, Earth Day, we invite you to spread the love.”

Of course, they are many ways in which trees affect our environment. That’s why these wonderful stewards of the Earth deserve our appreciation. On April 22, Earth Day, we invite you to spread the love.

On Earth Day we’re giving hundreds of trees away to over 10 schools throughout the Twin Cities. If you’re the parent of a child getting a tree, plant it with them and make it an event. Post a picture on Facebook or tweet about it to your friends and family. Your tree will love all the attention.

The trees are ready to meet their new families this Earth Day. Make them feel welcome. They’ve got a lot of work to do!

For more information on the many ways in which trees affect our urban environments, check out this excellent video.

Planting Roots Online

Posted on February 1, 2013 by vnarula

Welcome to our new website!

Thank you for being here. We hope the new website makes it easier for you to connect with us and find out what’s happening at Neighborhood Forest.

You might be familiar with us already. You might be a school coordinator, the parent of a child who received a free tree at school, or one of our green sponsors — if so, we’d like to thank you. It’s your commitment to Neighborhood Forest that’s helped us give more free trees to more schoolchildren each year. Your encouragement, your suggestions and your continuing support have been invaluable. Neighborhood Forest couldn’t have gotten this far without you.

If you are new to Neighborhood Forest, consider this an invitation to be part of our online community. Friend us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or drop us a line. Let us know your thoughts.

“You might be a school coordinator, the parent of a child who received a free tree at school, or one of our green sponsors — if so, we’d like to thank you.”

If your thoughts are you’d like more people to know what we’re doing, feel free to pass a friendly word along, or better yet, become a school coordinator or even a sponsor. Tell a friend, speak to your child’s teacher, your next-door neighbor, your boss, the school around the corner, the green business down the block, or even that progressive uncle who can’t stop talking about his plug-in hybrid, about our mission to give away free trees to kids every Earth Day.

What if you know people who live outside the Twin Cities or Minnesota? No worries. They’re welcome here too. We plan to expand beyond our state borders in the future, so we may be in their neighborhood soon.

So thank you again, all of you, new friends and old, for your interest in Neighborhood Forest.

We hope you stick around for this exciting journey. Together, we’ll be able to get more small trees into the little hands of more beautiful children.