The excellent e-flyer that went out to Schenectady community members in advance of the summer 2022 tree planting.

See also the earlier blog post: Schenectady Plants 50 Trees with New Collaborative Initiative

In the summer of 2021, ReTree Schenectady, the City of Schenectady, Schenectady County, Community Fathers, and the Schenectady Job Training Agency collaborated to plant 50 trees in environmental justice focus areas. Trees were planted by a small group of youth who were employed through the Schenectady County Summer Youth Employment Program. They were led by Kenneth Brooks of OIOI (Occupations Instead of Incarceration), which is part of Community Fathers. Brooks also owns the Schenectady-based company, Ground Up Landscaping.

In the summer of 2022, the second year of the program brought a doubling of tree numbers to 100 and doubling of youth crew members, with Kenneth Brooks taking an even more central role for coordination, both of people and of tree acquisition and distribution.

“In trees as in all of life, never underestimate the power of an individual,” says ReTree Schenectady President Betsy Henry. “Kenneth is at the center of this collaborative, pulling everything together. He works in the community, knows which young people might be interested in the job, and he knows where the tree needs are. He kept an eye on 2021’s trees for any losses or tree damage, and in 2022 his crew watered both the 2021 and the 2022 trees through the intense heat of the summer of 2022.”

A further benefit of hiring local youth is they know the neighbors and can, in many cases, get permission to hook up their hoses to outdoor taps so as to fill the irrigation bags on the newly planted trees. Betsy Henry says the City wisely hired Ground Up Landscaping to continue the first- and second-year establishment watering from August into November to ensure the success of newly planted trees.

Because the planting was taking place during the summer (to accommodate the schedules of the students in the work crew), the trees needed to be balled-and-burlapped (B&B) or containerized. (Bare root success relies on cool spring or fall temperatures.) The species list included Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus), Northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa), hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), and serviceberry (Amelanchier grandiflora).

In the spring of 2022, Betsy Henry worked with Land Art Studio Landscape Architect Mary Moore Wallinger on the selection and placement of trees in the neighborhoods and City parks. “Schenectady is blessed with quite a few neighborhood parks,” Henry says. “We took a tour of the parks in spring and then selected trees with an eye toward increasing species diversity, including evergreens. This included some fruit trees in a new park managed by the Hamilton Hill Arts Center. Sankofa Sculpture Park is a neat place——a sculpture park and community gathering spot. It offered the space and opportunity to plant pairs of fruit trees that require cross-pollination.”

The summer youth crew also planted some single self-fertile trees in smaller residential backyards, facilitated by Kenneth Brooks’ knowledge of his neighbors and the interest they expressed in fruit trees. Henry and Brooks  hope to collaborate with Schenectady Urban Farms, which maintains a community orchard, to teach the homeowners and youth about the care of the trees.

In July of 2022, the City of Schenectady released its NYSDEC grant-funded Community Forest Management Plan, with recommendations that include a maintenance plan for existing and new trees. The City has a budget line item in 2023 to hire a consulting arborist to help achieve the maintenance goals for the newly planted and established trees. “I’m optimistic about the care the City’s trees will get,” Henry says. Meanwhile, plans are underway for more trees to be planted in the summer of 2023.