The El Centro “Free Trees” program is an Urban Forest Expansion and Improvement project that will plant and maintain 1,000 climate appropriate trees within the city of El Centro. Planting sites are focused primarily on private property and school-grounds. This project will increase the public understanding of how urban trees are a valuable infrastructure component in the Imperial Valley by providing future shade benefits in a region where normal summer temperatures can reach 118 degrees F. To receive a tree through the program, education will be mandated for each applicant. Education and outreach through the “Imperial Valley Tree Steward” program will include teaching residents and students about proper tree planting and care, drought tolerant watering practices, and the various benefits of clean air, reduced energy consumption and long term health benefits that urban trees provide.
The El Centro “Free Trees” program will also help to combat an unemployment rate near 27% by supporting jobs and building strong partnerships with local organizations like Tree San Diego, Future Farmers of America, and local school districts. This project will train and provide stipend based jobs for 25 certified Tree Stewards to engage the community and help support planting and maintenance activities. These entry point “tree-jobs” will serve residents in low-income and disadvantaged communities by providing opportunities for a career pathway into the broader sector tree-care industry.
A healthy foundation starts from the ground up; with the right education, smart tree choices, and a little extra attention, the tiniest saplings will grow into advantageous sources of shade and hope. Friends of El Centro are not only planting trees for the community, but they are planting hope for the next generation of community members. This project represents one of many critical steps in creating a living, breathing Imperial Valley urban forest to help the City of El Centro become a leading example of how using the best urban forestry practices in climate challenged areas can be sustained, and improve the everyday lives of residents in urban settings.