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Farmington has deep roots as a tree city

One way or another, fourth graders from Riverview Elementary School filled in the holes around tree root balls at Prairieview Park during the April 30 Arbor Day celebration. This year marks the 20th year for the Arbor Day activity.

When Farmington celebrated Arbor Day last Friday, it wasn't a lot different than any other Arbor Day celebration the city has held. There were kids in a park, learning how to plant trees.

The kids picked up shovels and rakes, pushed the earth around the root ball then covered it all with mulch. Some were a little unsteady with the shovels, some just chose to use their hands to push the dirt into the hole. All the same, about 25 fourth grade students from Riverview Elementary School planted eight trees at Parkview Park on the east side of Farmington to celebrate Arbor Day.

But this year's Arbor Day was a special one, too. It was the 20th year elementary school students have planted trees in Farmington's parks. It also marks the 20th year the city of Farmington has been designated as a Tree City, USA.

Sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation, the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters, the Tree City, USA designation is not easy to come by.

According to Farmington natural resources director Jen Dullum, only about 3,400 communities across the United States - 103 of which are in Minnesota - qualified as a Tree City in 2008. Farmington gets its designation because it has a natural resources department, a registered city forester, a forestry program with an annual budget and because "we observe and proclaim Arbor Day in the city of Farmington," she said.


Farmington parks maintenance specialist Don Hayes was around back when the city's Arbor Day program started 20 years ago. Back in 1980, then-parks and recreation director Jim Bell and Charlie Tooker, the former city engineer who was also designated as the city's forester, decided to start planting trees to celebrate Arbor Day. Apparently, it was a tradition in the making.

Hayes eventually took on the job. Every year, about 25 students are asked to participate. At first, it was one class or another of fourth graders. More recently, an elementary school within School District 192 is chosen to participate. The students are asked to draw Arbor Day posters. From those posters, 25 students are selected to help plant the trees.

But that's where it starts to get impressive.

"Think about that. That means there are about 500 students, at a minimum, that we have touched base with," Hayes said. "Over the years, we have planted 300 trees with the students' help, and another 150 shrubs."

Over time, Hayes' role with the project has changed, too. These days, he's the guy who decides which parks are going to get new trees, and what kind of trees and how many there will be. Parks maintenance staffers Randy Bach and Tim Larson head out to the sites early. They dig the holes and place the trees in the bases. Bach talks with the kids, explaining all the important points to planting trees.

And then, the kids are set loose to pack the soil around the base. They've learned the basics of tree planting, but they can go away from the park with the knowledge they can come back there with their parents, or maybe someday their own children, and point out the tree they helped to plant. Some of them even give their tree a name.

What they might not realize is that they've made their community a better place to live, they've helped the environment, and they've even learned a thing or two.

That's kind of the point of Farmington's Arbor Day celebration, Dullum said.

"We want to promote a healthy urban forest, By doing that with the kids, we educate them on the benefits of trees and how to care and maintain for them in the future," she said.

One tree is always donated by Dakota Electric Association. DEA also provides seedlings for the students to take home and plant.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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