Written by Chloe Campbell

If you happened to be driving along Archer Braid Trail on the morning of Saturday Feb. 29, then you might have noticed a large reclaimed water truck, a trailer carrying twenty-nine trees, and a group of thirty-odd people in bright orange vests standing by the edge of the road. As one of those brightly dressed workers, I took part in a simple activity that had countless effects on the future of Gainesville. What was this activity, you may ask? It was a tree planting, organized by the Imagining Climate Change Initiative and led by Dr. Terry Harpold, the director of the initiative and an English Professor at UF. 

Imagining Climate Change, or ICC, is an initiative at the University of Florida that brings together members of the university’s many disciplines to discuss and make a difference in the face of climate change. According to their website, ICC has sponsored or co-sponsored events including lectures, performances, readings, and film screenings for the Gainesville community. The organization features internationally-renowned activists, creators, researchers, and scholars tackling climate change. In addition to educating students, UF faculty, and our Gainesville community about climate change, ICC gives opportunities to those who want to get on the ground and make real change. Under the supervision of the Alachua County Arborist, ICC tree plantings allow volunteers to get involved and make a meaningful contribution to their community. 

Dr. Harpold started the ICC initiative in 2015 for three main reasons. First, he wanted to involve more humanities in the conversation of climate change in order to augment the power of the ongoing climate studies conducted by the physical sciences at UF. In what Dr. Harpold calls “thought experiments,” the humanities, especially literature, allow us to project our imaginative power into the future to imagine the kind of world we want to live in, as well as the world our current actions are moving us toward.Through these thought experiments, Dr. Harpold hopes that the humanities can open our discussions of climate change to include discussions of ethics and imagination. A second mission of ICC is to bring everyone into the conversation about climate change. Dr. Harpold believes that all disciplines can use their interests and skills to develop unique ways to combat sustainability issues. On a more personal level, Dr. Harpold’s third reason for creating ICC was to increase the impact he was making in his own life. 

Alachua County Reclaimed Water Truck. Photo by Chloe Campbell.

The ICC tree plantings did not begin until 2019, when a group of students from one of Dr. Harpold’s English classes, the Literature of Sustainability, asked for a way they could make a concrete difference in the world. After coordinating with the County Arborist, Dr. Harpold held the first student-volunteer tree planting in February of 2019. When asked about the tree plantings, Dr. Harpold happily stated: “this might be the most important thing I do!” 

At the most recent tree planting on Feb. 29, 2020, volunteers from all around Gainesville planted a total of twenty-nine trees, including sand live oaks (Quercus geminata) and longleaf pines (Pinus palustris). These tree species were chosen by the Alachua County Arborist, with consideration to attributes of the planting site, such as the soil and current erosion, the surrounding ecosystem, and the community members that could be benefited. Lacy, the County Arborist, seemed overjoyed as she gave the group of volunteers a short and animated lesson on how to plant trees.

Planting a tree is not difficult and no prior experience is necessary. All you need to do is dig a hole approximately the size of the tree’s container, place the tree in the hole, cover it with dirt and soil, make a bank for water retention, then you water the tree and move on to the next one! As simple as the tree plantings sound, they make a huge impact on the ecosystem and they are a fun community-building activity. The three to four hour plantings allow all the volunteers to connect with both nature and each other.

A Sand Live Oak tree, planted by ICC Volunteers. Photo by Chloe Campbell

As I talked with other volunteers during and after the tree planting, I learned that we all felt the gravity of the work we were doing and we felt proud to be a part of the ICC’s efforts to combat climate change. Several times during the day, volunteers were reminded that the trees we planted that day would still be growing there and impacting the ecosystem for hundreds of years to come. A task that takes a few hours could impact the community for a few centuries, said Dr. Harpold. 

Due to the COVID-19 crisis tree plantings are cancelled for the rest of the Spring 2020 semester, but they will resume in Fall 2020. Be sure to check the ICC website for more information regarding upcoming plantings! According to Dr. Harpold, additional volunteer opportunities may be available in the future, including invasive species cleanouts, weatherization, and energy efficient upgrades for residencies and businesses around Gainesville. 

In the wise words of Dr. Harpold, “To plant a tree is to pledge a bond with the future.” If you would like to get involved, or if you have any questions about ICC, their future events, or tree plantings, contact Dr. Harpold at tharpold@ufl.edu