Though it’ll be a greener crop of youths getting their hands dirty this year at the Town of Tonawanda’s tree farm, they’re joining an initiative with solid roots.
The town’s tree farm, situated on Edgar Avenue, behind the Town Clubhouse of the Boys & Girls Club of the Northtowns, was created in the spring of 2010. Folks in the Highway Department were looking to replicate the urban tree farm created in Buffalo by Re-Tree WNY, an organization formed in response to the devastation caused by the October 2006 surprise snowstorm.
The Boys & Girls Club provides the labor, in the form of community service performed by its Riverside Keystone Club. Members, ages 14 to 18, focus on activities related to academic success, career preparation and community service.
“This tree farm’s actually worked out great,” said Highway Superintendent Bill Swanson, who was a foreman when he and Jack Schifferli, the forestry supervisor, devised the plan. “It’s really done a lot for the community over there.”
“Over there” is the Old Town neighborhood, on the western edge of the town.
It’s home not only to the tree farm and clubhouse, but most of the original trees from the farm now are growing in curb strips on neighboring streets. Nearby, the Tonawanda Engine Plant and United Auto Workers Local 774 have offered their properties as training grounds for the young farmers.
Planting, transplanting and pruning are among the skills they learn. Job skills, Schifferli said. “They don’t realize it,” he said. “The way I look at it, they’re building resumes.”
Work is overseen and supplemented by Keystone Club advisers Ray Ertel, “Jimbo” McDonald and Gabrielle Mosher, with Re-Tree Tonawanda, another volunteer organization, helping out.
In 2011, the Riverside Keystone Club was recognized for its community service by the Girls & Boys Clubs of America. It won first place in the Northeast Region and third place nationally.
Their prizes were a couple of plaques and “bragging rights,” said Mosher, who also is teen director at the Town Club.
Keystone Club members have numbered between eight and 10 in recent years. Those involved during the tree farm’s inception have moved on to the next stage of their lives.
But it isn’t only Keystone members who’ve been rolling up their sleeves to work at the tree farm. “A lot of kids do volunteer to ... help with the tree planting,” Mosher said.
Funding comes from government and private grants, as well as donations of money and materials from local businesses and organizations.
There were 75 trees, representing several varieties, when the farm opened in 2010. They’re now growing along the streets of Old Town, as well as Kaufman and James avenues – two residential streets in the town’s industrial corridor.
Meanwhile, 50 more trees purchased with a $1,500 grant secured by Re-Tree Tonawanda have taken their places at the farm. Those trees spent the winter in 25-gallon tubs, with plastic sleeves protecting their trunks from hungry rabbits and other critters.
April 20 is the first scheduled planting this season, Schifferli said, when 13 trees will be transplanted to Kenview Avenue.
“The charm of this, to me, is most of our kids come from pretty urban settings. Horticulture is a word they wouldn’t even know,” said Phil Penichter, chief professional officer of Boys & Girls Club of the Northtowns.
Now, “They are teaching other people because they are proud of the fact they learned these things,” he said.