Students and volunteers do large-scale tree plantings to help the planet

Students and volunteers do large-scale tree plantings to help the planet

>>High on a ridge at the Catawba Sustainability Center, the 377-acre farm that Virginia Tech owns, dozens of American chestnut trees are being planted this spring. The effort is part of a nationwide process of restoring the mighty giants lost to blight, even as the words ‘chestnuts roasting on an open fire’ were being penned.>>We were part of a nationwide backcrossing effort to develop a genetic form of the American chestnut tree that makes it resistant to the blight. We’re doing this by introducing genes from the Chinese chestnut to restore it to the American Heritage tree that it once was.>>Through the American Chestnut Foundation, local arborist Carl Absher, for the fourth year running, marshals volunteers to dig dirt and plant seedlings, later measuring their heights and recording data to keep track of where each tree is planted. But as significant as the young orchard may prove to be, helping to reinstate the forest canopy that was part of America’s heritage, chestnuts aren’t the only trees contributing to new knowledge and environmental breakthroughs. The day of the chestnut tree planting also saw students from the service organization VT Engage on site to plant other trees along three-quarters of a mile of stream bank.>>I didn’t realize how much or how complex farming could be. It’s not just planting seeds in the ground and hoping that they grow. It’s a lot of planning and organization, you know, planning certain plants in certain areas and not putting plants in areas that they can’t grow.>>The students were planting several fruit and nut tree species in a project to demonstrate that trees can produce food and medicines, as well as provide useful uptake of phosphorus. Because of fertilizer use, farms create runoff that pollutes, which trees can absorb. Persimmon and pawpaw, native to Appalachia, also were put in the ground. Trees such as sycamore, bald cypress and river birch, planted on stream banks, double as a guard against erosion.>>We have numerous projects happening here on the farm, many of them working with faculty members at Tech and drawing off their expertise to implement them on the ground. One in particular is a grant received from the National Fish and Wildlife Service by the College of Natural Resources and Environment, to plant a riparian buffer zone along the creekside here with a mix of fruit and nut trees that will also produce harvest for farmers wanting to adopt these practices on their own farms.>>Forest management Extension specialist John Munsell landed more than a million dollars in grant money devoted to agroforestry. Also part of the phosphorus uptake project, a thousand trees were recently planted on a swale system designed to direct water into berms. The agroforestry tree planting is part of a larger global initiative to help mitigate the effects of climate change. As with all of the projects at Catawba, the outcome is more trees, better science, smarter farming practices, stepped up production of native local foods, and a cleaner environment. For Outreach and International Affairs, this is Andrea Brunais reporting.

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