Greening Frogtown

Planting trees, growing community


This past semester, I worked as an intern with Frogtown Green, a neighborhood organization I’d never heard of before September. I’m a Bethel University senior, majoring in English and business. Frogtown Green is an environmental organization in a Saint Paul neighborhood I was not familiar with (I grew up in Hopkins). But I wanted to experience what it’s like to work with a small climate-focused organization in an urban neighborhood. Frogtown Green fit the bill.
During my internship, Frogtown Green was focused on reaching a long term goal of planting a thousand trees in the neighborhood. This operation has taken hours of planning, help from volunteers, generous donations, and of course, a whole lot of muscle time digging holes. I feel quite privileged that I got to plant many of those trees, and can take credit for helping Frogtowners and friends meet their long-term goal. As I drove with other volunteers from house to house planting, watering, and mulching fruit and shade trees, I felt something which I don’t often feel after writing the hundredth college essay or completing another boring quiz – that the work I do matters. It’s a truly amazing feeling.
But did it really matter? Sometimes, during my internship, I felt overwhelmed by the cynical idea that on a grand scale, all of this work is futile. Trees help fight climate change because they absorb Co2, our most prominent greenhouse gas, but when you start looking at the numbers, it can be a little disheartening. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that a single tree can absorb 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, which is miniscule in comparison to the billions of tons of carbon emissions produced at the same rate.
The hardest thing about fighting climate change is that it takes so long, and we have so little time. The small trees we planted aren’t going to grow to their full size any time soon. The residents who ordered them won’t get to enjoy their full beauty right away. The air quality is definitely not going to magically get better in the neighborhood, and climate change isn’t going to end overnight.
So, why do we even bother to plant one tree at a time in a neighborhood like Frogtown?
But planting trees is so much more than just lowering CO2 levels. During my internship, I saw people connect, learn, and form community. I met a dad who had recently moved to the neighborhood who was eager to literally put down roots; a lady with the most gorgeous garden decorations you’ve seen; and a man who dreamed of covering his lawn with beautiful purple creeping thyme. All of them very different, but all sharing the same idea that their property should contain the beauty of nature within it.
Now, looking back at the end of my semester here, I can confidently say that what I was feeling wasn’t just me tricking myself. I was making a difference. While our overall impact on the world’s climate may be small, our impact on Frogtown is not. I’m proud of the time I spent working with Frogtown Green, and hope that others may feel inspired to help out as well, whether it’s a college internship, volunteering, donating, or even just spreading the word to friends.
Frogtown Green is a resident-led and volunteer-powered environmental initiative in St Paul’s most diverse neighborhood. Frogtown Green intern Cyrus Ruch is a senior at Bethel University.


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