In honor of MLK Day, I participated in Green Seattle “Day of Service 2020” volunteer planting event at Seattle’s Seward Park. This was my second volunteer planting with Green Seattle, the first being at Genessee Park for “Green Seattle Day” in November.

With a couple planting events under my belt, I’ve decided to make this a regular thing for myself and make a case for everyone to give it a shot.

1 – The planet needs more trees

Trees and plants are crucial for biodiversity, carbon sequestration and much more. According to Crosscut, Pacific Northwest forests are among the most efficient in capturing and storing carbon – even more so than tropical ones. Short of the old chain-yourself-to-a-tree-to-stop-the-bulldozer routine, it usually takes more than individual action to stop deforestation. However, planting is easy, and it can be done individually or as a group.

volunteer planting
A newly planted yellow-twig dogwood shrub and some freshly pulled buttercup weeds. Photo by the author.

2 – Free education and planting lessons

You can expect the following things at a volunteer planting event: a short lesson on shovel safety, an overview of the importance of native trees and plants, and a demonstration on how to plant and mulch new plantings to set them up for success. You’ll also probably learn to identify a few native and invasive plant species. Take this time to ask questions and learn about our local ecosystem!

Today, Seward Park Audubon director Joseph Manson taught the group that there are 485 parks in Seattle, yet nearly 70% of the city’s canopy is comprised of trees on private residential property. In other words, we can – and should – plant more trees in Seattle parks for the reasons mentioned above.

3 – Sense of community

In the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., Joseph also reminded the group about the importance of community and how great things can be achieved by working together. An hour later, that sentiment rang true as the group put hundreds of plants in the ground way ahead of scheduled and turned toward clearing the area of invasive buttercup weeds.

Both times I’ve planted through Green Seattle, my fellow volunteers have represented an amazing range of ages, abilities and cultures – all with smiling faces. You want to see community in action and evidence that everyone has value? Sign up for a planting event.

4 – The conversations (especially those overheard)

There’s something about planting and weeding that brings out fascinating conversation, especially given the mixed company described above. Today, I chatted with a retired woman (we didn’t exchange names) about her garden. Soon, another woman chimed in about the Trees for Neighborhoods program in Seattle, and how the city will supply free advice and trees! Meanwhile, two kids behind me gave names to the “worm friends” that their mother pulled from the ground.

Amidst the casual chatter, advice sharing and worm-naming, I could literally feel a sense of community building. It was amazing to experience.

5 – The spiritual pick-me-up

Take the first four items and add in eagles soaring overhead, sunshine (or maybe rain), laughter, dirty knees and fingers, fresh air – basically everything you’d find in a park or garden. What does that add up to? It adds up to optimism, accomplishment, and that fuzzy feeling of knowing you did a good thing.

My only advice is not to stop there. Build upon those good feelings to make Earth-friendly choices at home or sign up for more volunteer planting events. Tell your neighbors, friends and family how great you feel and invite them to join next time. Most important, make the connection that fighting climate change doesn’t have to be a drag. In fact, it should be fun and rewarding.

Volunteer planting
Many hands make light work! Photo by the author.

Feature photo copyright Emeraldology 2020.