Finding common ground - literally

I can’t think of a time when we have needed to find common ground more than we do right now. The country is polarized, our state is polarized and certainly there’s lots of disagreement over how we should preserve and protect our natural environment. I’ve been reflecting on how to find common ground, which then led me to explore the origins of the term, “common ground.” The first recorded use of the term was in 1809 according to Webster’s. From my research, I’m convinced that it was originally used to describe literally ground that was shared in common.

Despite all the bickering, there are lots of us working toward solutions and finding common ground. A few years ago, I was invited by Des Moines business leader Robert Riley to attend a two-day session he was hosting on Polarity Management. Joining a group of leaders representing agriculture, the environment and business, we got creative and made long lists of things we could agree on. Yes, we found common ground!

As we approach April, traditionally Earth Month, it’s time to recognize the Earth as our common ground, literally. You don’t have to think about the entire planet, you can think about this on any scale — your favorite park or grove, your neighborhood, a county park or your own land. It could even be the bit of ground between the sidewalk and street referred to as the “parking” where trees and grass are usually planted. In Iowa, many of us enjoy private land ownership, and yet all of our land is surrounded by roadways, ditches, trails and rivers providing commonly owned areas.

When it comes to private lands, whether a landowner allows hunters or neighbors to enjoy their land, they are contributing common ground for wildlife. The smallest remnant along a fence or stream is home to an amazing diversity of native bees and butterflies, mammals and birds, and more — far more life than we recognize living in our rich black soil to the tips of the green leaves of grasses and trees.

I’m so fortunate to work every day on projects that build common ground through tree and native prairie plantings. For over twenty years, Trees Forever has been planting trees, shrubs and grasses to improve water quality and wildlife habitat — we’re close to a million trees and shrubs in Iowa buffers alone. Most of the landowners we work with are farmers, but there are projects at schools and college campuses, city and county parks and even fairgrounds.

Committed to positive projects that involve volunteers whenever possible, Trees Forever has purposefully forged partnerships and friendships. It’s been a handshake with the earth, a green light to to empower landowners to move forward by preserving and planting along streams and rivers. We’ve found common ground — a way to contribute to a healthier, greener common ground, Planet Earth.

This Earth Month, I hope you’ll find a way to get more involved in supporting work that improves our “common ground.” Attend a tree or prairie planting, a care day or lend your support in other ways. We only have one planet, Earth!


• Shannon Ramsay is CEO and founding president of Trees Forever. More information:



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