116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
I grew up on J Avenue in northwest Cedar Rapids, a neighborhood typical for much of the city, with lots of friends and helpful neighbors. It was a great place to be a kid.
I had no idea that the magic of this community, its neighborhood spirit, would be central to my later life successes, let alone in response to community disasters.
Our first business, Teleconnect, opened in 1980. Our primary competitor was the largest corporation in the world! However, at 33, I knew how our community worked, and I was completely confident we could create a compelling product that businesses here would purchase, and they did.
This community acts as an incubator for many local companies, dating back to the city’s founding. And in times of disasters, we shine.
The 2008 flood was a real testament to how our community pulls together. Some cities would have withered; Cedar Rapids has prospered. We all witnessed “community” — neighbors helping neighbors, sand bagging, rescues. No fatalities.
This past year, a derecho struck our city in the midst of a pandemic. Again, the community responded. Neighbors helping neighbors. People moving in with others. Food, generators, chain saws, you name it: If you asked for something, someone seemed to be there with it.
Immediately following the derecho, my friend and business partner Steve Knapp came up with a simple but brilliant solution to help our employees at Fiberutilities Group (FG) recover from the storm.
Steve realized that the disaster was an opportunity for employees to learn the importance of native trees to our environment.
A simple concept
The concept was simple: An employer helps employees restore their yards with native trees. The local company proved a perfect vehicle for communication, education, distribution and teamwork.
FG added a twist by making additional trees available to employees that they, in turn, would gift to their neighbors.
Monarch Research, the Marion-based nonprofit I lead, took this model and shared it with other company owners. We’ve dubbed it “Planting Forward” because it makes an immediate impact on our tree canopy and it leaves a legacy that citizens of this community began years ago.
Last fall, six companies ordered more than 1,000 trees for employees. This spring, 39 businesses, municipalities and nonprofits have joined the Planting Forward effort, returning almost 15,000 trees to Eastern Iowa.
Monarch Research also is teaming with key Linn County partners to distribute trees at little or no cost. The City of Cedar Rapids, City of Marion and the Linn County Tree Equity Program all are participating.
And to recognize the over-the-top efforts of health care workers this past year, Monarch Research is partnering with Mercy Medical Center and UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital to distribute essential trees to essential workers.
Jim Hoffman has heroically coordinated this massive tree order. Every tree is native to Iowa.
Why native trees? Because natives provide essential energy for our ecosystem.
“Oaks support more forms of life and more fascinating interactions than any other tree genus in North America,” writes Dr. Douglas Tallamy, New York Times bestselling author and professor at the University of Delaware, in his new book on oaks.
“Oaks sustain a crucial and complex web of wildlife above ground, but are just as impressive underground, producing enormous root systems that make them champions of carbon sequestration, soil stabilization and watershed management,” he continues.
More than a dozen native trees are available through Planting Forward, including seven oak varieties. Tallamy helped identify the most ecologically impactful trees to offer.
These trees were grown from seed in a process called RPM that ”air-prunes” the roots, which prevents the root circling seen in container-grown plants. This process allows the tree to adapt better to its new home and often surpass the growth of larger, more expensive transplants in five to 10 years.
Join Us This Fall
Many companies that joined us this spring will participate again this fall. Other companies are currently joining the movement, and we invite local businesses and organizations to participate.
We’ll make it easy for you, providing everything needed to implement Planting Forward. Companies can structure the tree giveaway to fit their own culture, budget and employee needs.
Fall is a terrific time of year to plant trees. We’ll achieve more by working together, including efficiencies and bulk pricing.
If your company is interested, please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org), Jim Hoffman (email@example.com) or Hilery Livengood (firstname.lastname@example.org).
We look forward to working with our neighbors to support the recovery of our tree canopy and native habitat.
Clark McLeod is a lifelong Iowan who has spent four decades working to build and grow the Cedar Rapids community. He serves as CEO and President of Monarch Research, a nonprofit seeking to add pollinator habitat throughout Linn County and reestablish the monarch population, establishing a model for the whole country.