Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Alana Lea, a passionate Change Agent who travels around Latin America supporting local, organic tree planting projects. To find out more, visit her website, igivetrees.com.
I came back to Brazil in June of 2012 to attend open sessions of Rio+20 and met exactly the people I needed to, in the most unexpected places. The first person I literally bumped into as I disembarked from a crowded city bus, was a man who works with Hazel Henderson’s Ethical Markets. I’m meeting with him this week in Sao Paulo to explore how the story I’m about to share can bring about the greatest possible results.
But I was unable to collect my credentials in time to meet with biologist Yara Valverde, for the presentation on trees of Mata Atlantica at the Earth Summit. So, she took me home with her to the mountains of Petropolis, then dropped me off for a 5 day experience in the agricultural center of Bonfim to get some first hand experience. That’s where my Earth Summit really began…
By then I had learned that Conservation International was an avid sponsor of the educational work on reforestation in the area. People here don’t seem to be concerned by their partnership with Monsanto because CI sponsors so many good things. While I could appreciate what they were saying, I didn’t share their comfort with the arrangement.
Bonfim is nestled alongside of the Parque Nacional Serra dos Órgãos in Petropolis, Rio de Janeiro. It is a paradise of small farms amidst the rainforest. It could not be more beautiful, nor the people more kind.
But I soon discovered the shadow side of the mountain. The lush farms are all using Monsanto supplied seeds and chemicals, feeding the otherwise pristine surroundings and water ways with toxic chemicals. Young field workers apply chemicals without protection. The farms exist where the forest was previously slashed and burned, and I was told they seem mysteriously to grow a little overnight.
Burning is a constant battle there, as people are so accustomed to burning the forest’s leaves and wood, that they continually make little fires, some of which get out of control, and burn more land. It keeps the bombeiros (firemen) busy.
I was feeling pretty depressed by what I was seeing and hearing in this poisoned paradise, while feeling a push/pull of emotions: “I love the obvious beauty. I hate the hidden toxicity. I want to stay here as long as possible. Get me out of here right now.”
Everyone in town had heard I was there to make a reforestation project and was pitching me with their dreams as if I were a rich gringa. But I had to tell them flat out that I refused to invest my energy on an organic project the midst of Monsantoland. I would remember them warmly and share information they might find useful, but I would do my project elsewhere.
Along comes a jeep full of firemen, en route to the National Park to patrol. One of them beams a smile at me and tells me he’s heard of my work with the trees. His name is Michel and he’s planted 2,000 trees by himself – would I like to come see them? We agreed to go to his planting ground the next day, and I could feel a glimmer of hope return to my heart.
He arrived to pick me up on his motorcycle the next morning, and we carefully wound our way over wet cobblestone streets, through the rainforest, to the hillside in front of his children’s home in Correas — many miles away from the farms I was so concerned about. It was not his private land, it is public land, and he had taken it upon himself to replant it.
Over the course of his life growing up in this town, he’d seen fires and floods ravage the area. In 2011 they had the most devastating floods in Brazil’s history less than 60 miles away. He didn’t see anybody doing anything to change the situation, so took it upon himself to make his town safer for everyone.
He began harvesting tree seeds, growing trees on neighbor’s patios and empty spaces in little pots. Then he’d haul them up the mountain behind the houses for planting — 2,000 over the course of 10 years. He took me up that hillside and introduced me to many of his “girls” who had now grown into towering trees of a multitude of species.
By the end of the day when we exchanged email addresses, we each knew we’d found a partner motivated by the same principle of putting love into action. His email address is: iAmTrees @xxx while mine is iGiveTrees@xxx !
So here’s what I propose. I would like to “buy” the 2,000 trees that he’s planted. On my website, we crowdfund tree planting for this Atlantic rainforest. With sufficient funds, he could start his own nursery to grow and plant more. I already have a lead on land he can use for the nursery. It’s time now to be harvesting and planting seeds for the next rainy season’s plantings. And donations are greatly appreciated! Visit my website to contribute.