Together with Lauren O Donnel, Jeremy “Loops” Hewitt and Rowan Pybus, the Greenpop mission was started in Arbor month 2010 with the planting of 1000 trees in under-greened areas of Cape Town, with the long-term vision of (re)connecting people with our planet, and with each other.
“Planting a tree is an incredible symbol of hope. It symbolises a belief in the future of our communities and our planet. It brings people together, with each other and Mother Nature. It is a living, breathing gift to the generations to come,” says Greenpop MD Lauren O Donnel.
From their nursery in Mountain Road, Woodstock, Greenpop are planting trees at community projects, old age homes, edu-care centres, hospitals and underprivileged schools in need of greening.On a weekly basis, volunteers from all over the world help with the planting whilst community leaders maintain the trees after they’re planted.
At one of the locations in Mitchells Plain where they planted, Mr Abobak Dramat, community garden coordinator, observed, "On this particular earth there have been rape cases, drug drop offs and pick-ups and gang initiated acts, and I decided we need to take an active stand and get the community working together on a positive outcomes project which will supersede us. I bought ten trees in honour of my twenty-first birthday and I asked some of my friends to accompany me. I learned a lot and cannot wait to plant more trees and help build the community.”
“With the birth of initiatives like Mandela Day, Women’s Day andWorld Environment Day, volunteering has become a lot more accepted in popular culture. People are starting to see purpose and value and fun in connecting with South Africans through volunteering. When you connect through adding value to someone else’s world or to the environmental space, the type of happiness that comes out of that is beautiful,” says says Tree E O of Greenpop, Misha Teasdale.
“We have had over 100 000 volunteers. School kids from over 400 schools have volunteered to help and plant trees. We have had volunteers that have come from overseas. People have interned in the office, using their specific skills, be it marketing, web development or finance. And then we have volunteers and corporate groups who help us at planting days. We also have people who come to our eventsand pay for tickets.They are sort of like volunteers as they are helping us plant trees, paint murals, build benches and various different sustainability activities,whilst they are also getting an event experience. We keep getting requests for more and more volunteers,” says Lauren.
Extending the tree planting from urban greening to reforestation happened very early on for Greenpop.South Africa has a very small natural forested area and that forest area has seen decline over the last 300 years. Rehabilitation of the riverine and coastal areas where there are existing forests is critical in allowing for a thriving biodiversity, whilst bringing back the natural micro-climates that very often bring the rain.
“We are so connected to trees, everything that we do in some way shape or form has an element of wood or oxygen or material value that has come out of trees. It is important that we feel gratitude toward nature for consistently giving us this gift of trees,” Misha Teasdale.
Francoise and Melissa Krigeare the custodians of the extraordinary Platbos forest situated between Gansbaai and Hermanus in the Western Cape. Platbos is a “National Treasure.” It is Africa's Southern-most indigenous forest, growing on an exposed, north-facing sand dune with neither a river nor spring to sustain it. The canopy make-up of the forest is unique with the elements of coastal forest unusually combined with Afromontane forest elements. White stinkwoods and white pears give the forest a special character.
Each year in spring, the Platbos staff, harvest the newly germinated forest seedlings from the forest floor and rear them in the forest nursery. To assist with the planting, Greenpop started the annual Reforest Festival in 2011, amulti experience festival including a family weekend aimed at children and a friends weekend for adults, which sees hundreds of green-hearted souls getting their hands into the earth, feeling the soil underneath their fingers and planting thousands of Platbos trees back into the lands where they once grew. In total over the last five years, 40 000 trees have been planted back into the magical Platbos Forest.
Greenpop hosts the Green Village at the annual Rocking the Daisies Festival in Darling. The Green Village is a touch point in education andopportunity to create awareness for their work. At the 2011 festival, they met a Zambian chicken farmer who had thousands of indigenous trees growing in the rich chicken manure on his farm. He invited the Greenpop team to help plant these trees to off-set the terrible deforestation problems in Zambia.
The annual Zambia Festival of Action in Livingstone resulted, and has quickly grown into a major initiative that includes a back to back schools and public festival, workshops, activations and events addressing a wide range of environmental challenges in the area. It is a zero waste festival that includes upcycling, recycling, natural building, food forests, permaculture, community gardens, art and creativity, personal development and family based learning.
An unbelievable experience for festival goers is the planting of indigenous trees right next to the Victoria Falls, in the Mosioa Tunya National Park. The indigenous trees are planted with cages on top of them so the baboons can’t dig them up and eat them.
Zimbabwean Meg Coates Palgrave, renowned dendrologist, author and hero of conservation is a guest of honour at the festival and conducts fun and participatory “Know Your Trees” identification courses every year.
Meg says, “The problem is not too few trees but to many people.”
The solution Meg has pioneeredis Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR), a land-restoration technique that manages the coppice growth and root-shoots of felled trees. As the trees already have an established root system, they can grow back in sixty years.
The local community in Livingstone is active throughout the year. Alow maintenance, productive, foodforest at the Sons of Thunder Farming Cooperative produces a lot of food year round, whilst six smaller food forests grow trees, herbs, vegetables and shrubs all planted in permaculturally inspired systems.
Amber a South African student participant at the recent Zambia Festival of Action said, "The most powerful thing is a group of people with the same passion, because you can all put your minds together and create so much life. That is how you change the world…"
In 2014 Greenpop joined with Terra-Khaya Family and Eco Lodge, run by Shane Eades, to host a reforest festival in the Amathole Mountains in Hogsback. This very special Afromontane forest is home to a number of endangered species including the Cape Parrot, the Amathole toad, and Samango monkeys, rare birds, butterflies and 1215 species of plants, many of which are endemic to the forest.
The reforest festival takes place annually during eco-week andincludes walks, talks, yoga and music, with the primary aim of cutting back on the invasive trees and expanding the enchanted and indigenous forests.
“Green is the new black,” they say and Greenpop is taking greening into popular spaces through lots of live music at their reforest festivals. A plethora of prominent and up and coming South African musicians including Jeremy Loops, Nathalie Poppy, Crimson House, Grassy Spark, Jimi Curve, Black South Easter, Seyda, Ernestine Deane and Liam Brickhill, have dedicated their talents to supporting the tree planting around the country and keeping the spirits of participants energized, joyous and abundant.
To date Greenpop have planted 70 000 trees in Southern Africa.Whilst they continue to expand in tree planting, urban greening and environmental education, they have built up a database of tree planting projects that require support.
Greenpop has set up a partnership with the Udzungwe Forest Reserve, a naturally stunning part of Tanzania and region with the highest density of species on earth. Greenpop supports this small-scale reforestation project by paying the salary of the nursery manager.
Lauren says, “The goal is to be able to support smaller scale grassroots projects because we have a central city hub where we can fund raise from and we can outsource the fund raising to smaller grassroots planting projects.”