Boosting Tree Canopies, Food Forests, and Workforce Development

The Tempe, Arizona City Council has allocated the use of federal and state grant funding for a new city program – Growing Together: A Tree Stewardship & Workforce Development Program –  that will expand local tree canopies, establish two public food forests, and provide workforce development opportunities in selected neighborhoods that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

The selected communities are a part of Tempe’s Justice40 Zones – a White House initiative that aims for 40% of all federal funding to support disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution. The program will use US$1.6 million in grant funding from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Forest Service and AZ Department of Forestry and Fire Management (DFFM) over the next 3 years.

“The goal of this project is to promote community wealth-building, equitable urban cooling and resilience to extreme heat. It’s driven by Tempe’s previous research on heat vulnerability and recent investments in local food, green stormwater infrastructure, urban forestry, and neighborhood heat resilience,” Tempe Mayor, Corey Woods said. “These human-centered, nature-based solutions will expand tree canopy coverage, create economic opportunity, and promote food access while centering community neighborhoods that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.”

During this three year time span, the city programs will also launch three new programs:

  • The Community Tree Stewards Program will pay community members as Community Tree Stewards to help grow, distribute, and maintain native and desert-adapted trees. They will also help to coordinate the planting, maintenance, and tracking of the trees in their neighborhoods through community outreach and education. The grant funding will provide $40,000 in scholarships and professional training or certification for those participating in the Community Tree Stewards Program;
  • The School Greening & Grounds Maintenance Program will work with school district administration and field staff to plant trees and install green infrastructure on school campuses while creating opportunities for professional development; and
  • The Food Forest Pilot Program will establish two community food forests. These forests will grow food for community members while utilizing sustainable growing practices, such as incorporating native edible plants and using green stormwater infrastructure to capture rainwater. 

“Tempe continues to invest in green infrastructure and programs that address increasing heat and drought while improving quality of life for all,” Sustainability and Resilience Director Eric Iwersen said. “Because these programs empower our residents to be trained tree and food access professionals, it also simultaneously builds partnerships that help to exponentially amplify the message across the community.”