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Urban Trees from Seed

by Ohemaa Boateng, Garden and Food Educator

Have you ever wanted to learn how to plant a native tree from seed? Better yet, have you ever wanted to be able to walk through your community and say “I planted that tree!”

Since 2017, Green Thumbs Growing Kids have been enhancing the tree canopies in the St. James Town, Regent Park and Cabbagetown communities through our Urban Trees from Seed program. Our program engages elementary students to learn how to locally source and collect urban tolerant native tree seeds, germinate and maintain them in their school gardens, and how to plant them throughout their neighbourhood.

[Students working together to plant Kentucky Coffee Tree seedlings in their school garden’s tree nursery]

Prior to Covid-19, we used our school gardens as a teaching tool and a communal space to learn about indigenous culture and the people, share stories, teach food literacy, connect with nature, improve the local ecology and become stewards of the land. We’ve continued this work, in spite of the coronavirus pandemic. Like many impacted by this virus, we learn how to adapt and even make our programming more accessible and inclusive. We now offer online programming about a special native tree with the Anishnaabemowin name, Biizhou aatig, also known as the Kentucky Coffee Tree (KCT).

We’ve lately learned that the longer name “Giidaga biizhou aatig” is even more specific, in that “giidaga” refers to the bobcat that sat in this tree!

Our online curriculum-linked program covers the intricate history between the Biizhou aatig/Kentucky Coffeetree and the Anishnaabe people, and also a fascinating story about a prehistoric animal that helped disperse the KCT. The program also includes a step-by-step instructional video on how to grow a KCT from seed, a Native Tree Care handout and Kentucky Coffee Tree Growing Kit with planting material. 

While ensuring Covid-19 safety practises, our kits have been available for pick up at each of our garden sites and hand delivered to the residents outside of our catchment area.

“This is fun activity to try with my daughter” – Resident

We’ve opened our online program to the students as part of their continued education during quarantine as well as to families, residents, seniors and even tree enthusiasts, who are excited to also participate. Since the rise of Covid-19, we provided kits for over 120 students and community members.

Happy child personalized her KCT Kit with stickers  

This amazing project has allowed Green Thumbs staff to connect with residents, hear their stories, concerns about the pandemic and learn about their deep rooted (pun intended) connection to native trees, gardening and the environment. Here’s what some had to say:

“It’s been tough coming up with activities for twin toddlers and a 6 year old during covid. This is the perfect activity for them to stay engaged.” – Parent

“I want to be able to do more for the environment, so I started a tree nursery in my front yard. And I plan to share the rest of these kits with some kids in the neighbourhood. – Resident

“Thanks so much for handing over our lovely seeds. I am so excited about them.” – Resident

“I love this project. I grew up in New Brunswick and we would plant trees all the time. It’s a good feeling when you can go back years later and can say ‘I planted that tree’. – Educator

As we continue to grow and develop transformative projects that bring together families and communities, please remember all donations to Green Thumbs are tax deductible, no matter how small. And for the month of July, we have a matching donor that will double the total donations we receive this month.

Please visit our link below to sign up for your very own Kentucky Coffee Tree Grow Kit:

Thank you for supporting Green Thumbs and the work we do!

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