In this second blog post about Nina Bassuk, we learn about her extensive home landscape. She is also an accomplished flutist who graduated in 1969 from the Music and Arts High School (now known as the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts) in her native NYC. Nina says that recently she reunited with some members of her high school class to play chamber music at the art exhibit of some other former classmates. She is also accomplished on the piano.
Previously we featured super dynamo Council cofounder Nancy Wolf. Continuing in that series, we talk here with another beloved Council cofounder and current board member, Cornell Urban Horticulture Director Nina Bassuk, who prefers to go by “Nina.” We asked her about her recollections about the early days of the Council. In a subsequent post, we’ll get some updates about things going on in the life and garden of Nina and her husband, the landscape architect Peter Trowbridge.
Nina, a native of NYC, received her bachelor’s degree in Horticulture at Cornell and then went on to receive her Ph.D. from the University of London while carrying out her research at the East Malling Research Station in Kent, England. Her current work in Cornell’s Urban Horticulture Institute focuses on the physiological problems of plants grown in urban environments, including plant selections, site modification and transplanting technology.
Nina is the coauthor with her husband of Trees in the Urban Landscape, a book for arborists, city foresters, landscape architects, and horticulturists on establishing trees in disturbed and urban landscapes. Nina is on the technical advisory committee of the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) and helped to develop the Student Weekend Arborist Team (SWAT) to inventory public trees in small communities. She is a recipient of the Scott Medal for Horticulture and an ever-popular speaker at the ReLeaf Conference.
Nina Bassuk on the Council’s Origins: “The impetus for the creation of the Council—which was then known as the NYS Urban and Community Forestry Council—was the fact that federal grants were coming from the US Forest Service to the states for the first time for urban forestry related projects. Each state had a different way of handling the grant funds; for instance, in Pennsylvania the money went through Cooperative Extension, while in New York the money went through DEC.
One of the requirements of the federal grants was to have an advisory group advising the DEC, who would in turn handle grants to municipalities, on urban forestry matters. The state foresters had to learn about urban forestry in a hurry! Some of them embraced the new urban forestry aspect of their positions, while others didn’t.
David Moore is a city forester at the New York City Parks Department and serves on the Executive Council of our NYS Urban Forestry Council. How did he get here? What’s great and challenging about it? What are some of his other passions and interests that might surprise you?
What were your childhood influences that foreshadowed getting interested in urban forestry? David Moore: Well, I never could have predicted that I’d be working in this field, but I always enjoyed trees and had an interest in biology. I can recall some really exciting science teachers in middle school and high school that helped spark my interest. By the time I was 12 or so, I started spending my summers at camp in the Adirondacks where I could ramble around the mountains and lakes and learn to be a real outdoorsman in all the primitive splendors of the North Country. Those experiences really laid the groundwork for my future path in forestry.
Tree Hugger from Upstate New York
By June S. MacArthur
From my earliest remembrance of about age three and a half, I lived in the countryside in Upstate New York on an apple orchard and chicken farm. I remember walking in the woods across from our house with my father and brother, Gerald, who was four years older. We were on a trail with Gerald ahead of me and Dad behind me when my father suddenly spoke sternly, “June! Stop now!” And I did. In the path ahead of me, where Gerald had just walked, was slowly uncurling a rattlesnake. Dad said, “Your brother seems to have woken up a rattler.”
Gerald yelled because he hadn’t seen it as he obviously had walked over it. My brother wanted to kill it but Dad said, “No, snakes are important. Just be aware that it’s their home too.” We watched it slither off into the underbrush. After that, I always made a point to watch where I was walking in fields or woods and was never surprised or afraid of snakes; I just gave them their own space.
Can you tell us about your childhood influences?
Andy Pleninger: I grew up in a neighborhood in Rochester, NY with mature black oaks and numerous diverse niche ecosystems ideal for play and exploration. Scouting took me to Camp Massaweppie in the Adirondacks, and camping trips with the family were exciting adventures. In the 1970s gypsy moth arrived and gorged on the oaks in my neighborhood. I also watched in awe as a tree surgeon climbed and worked on one of those giant neighborhood oaks. These events and experiences sparked and fostered my interest in the environment.
What has been your educational and career trajectory?
AP: My educational and career trajectories are intertwined. My interests and work and life experiences guided me to my career in urban forestry. Right out of high school I got a job with a tree service and enrolled at the local community college in pre-forestry studies. After my two years of studies I moved to Colorado with the intention of finishing a BS in forestry.
I worked in commercial landscaping and tree work and explored and pursued all the adventures the Rocky Mountains could offer. One of my jobs working as a tree surgeon had me pruning street trees for the City of Fort Collins, where I met the city forester. This was my introduction to urban forestry and I knew this is what I wanted to do. I returned to my studies at Colorado State University and completed a BS concentrating in urban forestry.
Can you tell us about your childhood influences that foreshadowed getting interested in arboriculture, urban forestry, and environmental education? Nancy Wolf: I grew up in a small southern Appalachian town in the Clinch River Valley of Virginia that was surrounded by farms. Everyone had gardens, my father kept chickens and my grandmother had a Jersey cow, which produced the best milk and butter in the world. I loved tree climbing and my first experience in “knowing” a tree was while perched in the major crotch of a big maple, surrounded by branches, leaves and breezes.
In my small high school, we were fortunate to have a well-educated science teacher who had just returned from World War II. Mr. Couch, in better days, would probably have gone on to graduate school and become a college teacher. The botany part of his biology class was “it” in terms of my entry into what I later understood was horticulture and arboriculture. His field trips and hands-on activities with plants brought to class were environmental education long before the term was introduced.
Can you tell us about your childhood influences that foreshadowed getting interested in arboriculture and urban forestry? Mike Mahanna: I grew up in the city of Utica and was always mesmerized by the American elm trees and the way they lined the city streets and formed a canopy almost appearing to touch in the middle. I spent many hours walking those streets with my family—and suddenly they were gone. At the time I had no idea it was because of Dutch elm disease, but I did miss seeing them and was saddened by the void they left and lack of beauty it created.
I also spent years as a child camping with my Dad in the Adirondack Mountains and loved everything about it. I knew at a young age that I wanted to spend most of my time outdoors.
Chris Anderson is a NYSUFC Board Member and is Director of Research for the Association of Towns of the State of New York, headquartered in Albany.
Please tell us about your background. I’m originally a Hoosier. While both of my parents came from farm families, I was raised in the second largest city in Indiana—Fort Wayne. I’ve lived in New York—Albany, Schenectady, and Schoharie counties at various times—for the last 17 years. I love New York and have no plans on leaving.
What is your personal connection to urban forestry? Whether it was the grove of American beech on my grandmother’s farm near Indianapolis or the black locust outside my window as a child in Fort Wayne, I’ve always had great affinity for trees. As a local government wonk, I’ve learned the value that urban forestry provides. What initially was aesthetic pleasure has grown to include a practical appreciation as well.
Please tell us about the Association of Towns. The Association of Towns was established in 1933 to help town obtain greater economy and efficiency. It serves town governments by providing training programs, research and information services, technical assistance, legal services, insurance programs, and a variety of educational publications to member towns.
Jeremy Barrick is Deputy Chief of Forestry, Horticulture, and Natural Resources for the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation and a graduate of the Municipal Forestry Institute. This is adapted from a profile of Jeremy that appeared in City TREES.
Jeremy, can you tell us about your education and career trajectory? Jeremy Barrick: Growing up in a small town in Minnesota that had a city forester, I have always been interested in city trees. After passing through a couple of different declared majors in college, I came to my senses and settled on my boyhood dreams of managing city trees; who wouldn’t want to drive around town in a truck with a black lab and look at trees all day?
Can you tell us about your childhood influences that foreshadowed getting interested in arboriculture and urban forestry, and about your education? Brian: Both my grandfathers were heavy into gardening, and I spent many a day helping them with vegetables, fruit, and flowers. My dad was active in the Boy Scouts when he grew up and continued through adulthood, so I was with him in Scouts until I went to college. I spent most of my free time at Scout camp, working in and enjoying the blessings of Mother Nature.
I spent four years at SUNY ESF and got my bachelor’s degree in Resources Management, then I spent a year and a half logging, then the past 42 years “practicing” arboriculture … and hoping to get good at it someday!
Can you tell us about your current position? As senior arborist for the upstate NY Central division of National Grid on the distribution forestry side of the business, I’m responsible for helping to manage more than 16,000 miles of overhead electric distribution lines; managing our divisional hazard tree management crews; managing our UNY community forestry commitment, including our “10,000 Trees and Growing” tree planting contribution program; and having a corporate presence by being an active member on a number of industry related professional organizations and committees (including NYSUFC).
When did you first get involved with the NYSUFC, in what capacities have you served, and what has your involvement meant to you? I started by attending the 2002 annual ReLeaf conference in Brooklyn and meetings lots of interesting and unique people of like interests. I volunteered to help out managing the financial side of the following year’s conference in Utica … and then the rest snowballed downhill from there. I ended up somehow getting involved with the executive committee, and I must have raised my hand at some point when I sneezed and was volunteered to run as VP. The rest, as they say, is history!