We’re in the Home Stretch!

Posted on April 5, 2017 by vnarula

Spring has sprung!

That’s right. In just a few weeks, the tree giveaway will be happening at schools and communities across the US (and even in parts of Canada!).

Did you register for a tree this year? Awesome! You’re all set.

Slipped your mind? Forgot to tie that string on your finger? That’s okay. You’ve earned your good karma points. You still have a chance to register for a tree until Sunday, April 9 even if your school’s deadline has passed.

Is your child’s school participating this year? Can’t remember? You can find out here. Don’t see your child’s school on the list? That’s okay too. You can sign up here. (Make sure you do this on a tablet, laptop or desk computer.)

Spring may be the season for tree planting, but there’s some “family members” that haven’t been feeling the tree hugging love.

You might know one or two. We know one. Surprised how we overlooked him. He loves to dig. He loves dirt and after fire hydrants trees are his best friend. If anyone was a natural at tree planting (or tree wetting!), it’s him!

So rather than feeling left out this year, he took the initiative. We still don’t know how he learned to type. But that’s for another day.

Right now it’s time to exhale, lift our heads up and stretch towards Earth Day. As you enjoy this spring season with its blossoming flowers, blue skies and warmer weather, remember to keep your umbrellas handy. It’s going to be raining trees for the next few weeks!

Ready to Decorate Your Home?

Posted on March 23, 2016 by vnarula

Have you noticed all the new home decorating magazines popping up at checkout counters and bookstores lately? It seems there’s a new one arriving everyday.

There must be hundreds of them now. Some are tied to a famous brand or person. Some have European-sounding names. Some are just weird. But regardless of where they fall on the spectrum, most of them are saying the same thing.

Add color! Paint! Renovate! Remodel! Buy nice towels. Done.

Ok, maybe that’s a bit simplified.

Some of the articles have interesting nuggets of advice, but I find most a little over the top. For instance, one magazine suggested my life will find new meaning when I begin to hold regular soirees filled with glitter balloons, spiced pear truffles and some kind of lustrous light candleholders.


Thanks for the advice, but I’ll pass.

All the inspiration I need is right in front of me. Spring has officially arrived, which means over the next several weeks I’ve got a front-row seat to learn from the Mother of all Home Decorators.

Can anyone match her creativity, her brilliance, when it comes to decorating her own home? What’s a glitter balloon compared to a budding flower?  What are spiced pear truffles compared to a juicy, ripe pear she lets me pluck and eat off a tree?

Wouldn’t it be great if we helped Mama Nature out a bit? She’s been doing this for a couple zillion years. 

Of course, we can’t match her attention to detail, but I’m sure she wouldn’t mind some extra help. What if we cared for, decorated and celebrated our collective home with the same zeal as she does, with as much love as those magazines want us to care for and celebrate our individual ones?

The good news is we are. Millions of us are coming together on April 22 to honor the greatest home decorator and greatest home ever.

All of us are contributing in our own small way. Neighborhood Forest, for instance, is launching its biggest tree giveaway yet, hoping to give away nearly 10,000 trees to kids during Earth Week (April 18-22).

Do you want a tree for your child? You can sign up (on a laptop, tablet or desktop computer) to get one. To find out if your child’s school participating, you can go to this link: https://www.neighborhoodforest.org/search-for-school/

We know parent participation increases when kids are involved. If a child wants a tree to plant, we don’t want them to go home from school empty-handed. So this year we’ve created a fun video just for them. (See below.)

We hope it will make them smile, reminding them to tell mom or dad not to forget our real “home decorating” day!

Earth Day is coming. Come join the celebration and let’s decorate our home together. 

No glitter balloons necessary.

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

Being Bigger

Posted on October 17, 2015 by vnarula

Remember those days many years ago when the only way to see anything was to look up?

Remember when an upward tilt of your head was followed by a surprise pat on your noggin, a pinch on your cheek, or a remark about your adorability factor?

Well, Neighborhood Forest’s 8 year old spokesman Ishaan knows all about it. And so do some of his friends.

Enjoy! 🙂

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

A Homecoming 21 years in the Making

Posted on December 24, 2014 by vnarula

“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.

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!

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.