Maui Residents to Continue 50-State Tree Planting Tour and Documentary Project
By Katie McMillan
Joe Imhoff and Sara Tekula are changing the world, one tree at a time. These Maui residents founded Plant a Wish, a nation-wide tree planting tour and documentary project. Their mission: to plant native trees in all 50 states.
Beginning this project in 2010, they are about to embark on the second leg of their tour which will take them to 18 new states, which will bring their total to 43 – just seven states shy of their goal.
The Plant a Wish project was launched on Earth Day 2010, with the pair soon after traveling to 25 states in the mid-west and northeast in June and July of the same year. With a message encouraging the restoration of local native habitat, the duo depended largely on popular social media tools to raise funds and connect with local nonprofit organizations, tree nurseries, a variety of community members, and landowners to arrange tree-planting events in each location. At these gatherings, participants are asked to write wishes on small scraps of paper and then plant them under a tree native to their location – hence the name, “Plant a Wish.”
“The planting of written wishes under trees began as a private thing Sara and I liked to do on our own,” says Imhoff. “As we’ve encouraged random people to plant their wishes along the tour, we’ve all come to see it as a powerful symbol of our connection to nature. Those trees are even more special to the communities we’re meeting because of that very personal, simple gesture they’ve made, and I’m willing to bet that they will want that tree to stay around.”
In March, Imhoff and Tekula will fly again to the mainland to document the road-trip across the entire southern U.S., planting trees in 18 more states, from Florida in the east to California in the west. The Plant a Wish project founders will again connect with local land stewards and tree experts along the way, highlighting the work they do and examining the issues we are all facing such as global warming, urban sprawl, the oil catastrophe in the Gulf, loss of biodiversity, and various industrial impacts.
“Along the way, the tree-planting events are opportunities for us to meet incredible people from all walks of life,” says Tekula. “As filmmakers, we enjoy documenting their stories about the history of the land they call home, and learning how special these places are. We also seek out cultural landmarks and extraordinary historic trees and capture their beauty on film, and we interview experts who can shed some light on the importance of native trees and plants everywhere.”
Imhoff and Tekula will be planting area-specific native trees everywhere they go during the tour because “native trees have the unique ability to adapt to the locations they evolved in over thousands of years,” says Tekula. “In Delaware, we learned that a single oak tree can support up to 600 different types of moths and butterflies,” says Tekula, “which means there is a lot of food for birds when there’s an oak around. Birds need to eat, too.”
Imhoff adds, “The same idea holds true in every location we visit: native trees are one of the building blocks for the life we see all around us. Nowhere is this more important than in our home state of Hawaii, which has been called the ‘posterchild for extinction‘ by several experts we’ve met on tour. Native trees need to be returned to our landscape if we want the islands to sustain us, and we’ve been sharing that message with everyone we meet along the way. In a way, lessons learned in Hawaii can change the world.”
To offset the costs of their project, Imhoff and Tekula are using grassroots and web-based fundraising methods. Their ability to complete a tour depends heavily on the kindness of friends and family for lodging, and sponsors to support the costs of travel and filmmaking. A contributor giving $20 or more receives a credit in their film, and has a wish planted on their behalf. Interested community members can follow their blog at www.plantawish.org/blog, and join the Plant a Wish social networks, at www.facebook.com/PlantAWish or at www.twitter.com/PlantAWish.
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