Greening the Garden State Through Tree Planting and Education

Rooted in science, New Jersey Tree Foundation beautifies and educates in underserved urban communities
Feb 16, 2024 8:00 AM ET
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At left, NJ Tree Foundation volunteers celebrate the tree they just planted in Downtown Newark, NJ. While trees bring extraordinary environmental benefits, especially in urban areas, the act of tree planting sparks and strengthens community spirit. At right, TreeKeepers workshops combine classroom learning and hands-on experiences like maintenance pruning, pictured here, to equip and empower generations of tree stewards to help their communities receive maximum environmental benefits from each tree.

Trees provide more benefits than meet the eye.

Not only do they provide a place for rest, shade, and a place to call home for countless organisms, but they provide a variety of environmental and mental health benefits.

However, communities may not even realize that they are lacking serious benefits from these multi-branch giants simply by not having them around.

“Not everyone realizes the extent of what a tree can do for a person and the environment,” says Pam Zipse, executive director of the New Jersey (NJ) Tree Foundation. “They benefit so many forms of life, and by being out in the community we can get people on board to plant more in their neighborhoods.”

The NJ Tree Foundation has been focused on planting trees in underserved urban communities for 26 years and has planted over 260,000 trees throughout New Jersey to date.

“Awareness of the benefits trees provide is a big part of what we bring to the community,” says Zipse. “We don’t plant in a community unless we have been invited to by the people who live there, so we know the residents want the trees and will take care of them.”

Extreme care is given to each tree planted so that it thrives in its forever location. Zipse’s team ensures that the right tree is planted in each place that won’t interfere with other infrastructure, such as power lines, or doesn’t block a sidewalk or street.

Outside of plantings, the NJ Tree Foundation actively engages with the community through its TreeKeepers program, a free course that empowers community members through accessible workshops on tree care.

“The relationship-building with the community is every bit as important as the trees themselves,” says Zipse. “Every planting is an educational opportunity, and we want to teach others not only about what we are planting, but also how to care for the trees going forward.”

The workshops combine education with hands-on activities, and participants leave the three-hour sessions with a wealth of knowledge, tree care tools, and the title of Certified TreeKeeper.

In 2023, Enbridge gave a $10,000 Fueling Futures grant to the NJ Tree Foundation as part of our commitment to supporting sustainability projects that help improve, grow and nurture our environment. The funding helps to support the creation of an education outreach coordinator role and aims to increase the number of TreeKeepers workshops from four to six this year.

“With every planting, it’s amazing to see the neighborhood come together, and neighbors talking to each other who may not have interacted otherwise,” says Zipse. “Witnessing the community that grows along with the trees is my favorite part.”

Every spring and fall, hundreds of volunteers sign up to join the NJ Tree Foundation in various tree planting efforts across the state. While planting new trees is an obvious goal and priority for the organization, Zipse stresses the importance of caring for existing trees.

“We need to be taking care of the trees that we already have, because an existing tree is already doing a lot more than a new tree that we just planted,” she says.

“The trees in our cities are working so hard for people—there’s something everyone can do to help create more sustainable environmental resilience for all.”