a different kind of coffee break with Gerry and Ray Coffey

Disease-Free Living Through Fitness and Nutrition


Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan & Friends
By: Gerry Coffey

A bargain made with God and his country before he was old enough to buy beer or vote is helping the world breathe easier. And now David Kidd, a cross between Johnny Appleseed and legendary lumberjack , Paul Bunyan, wants to help EARTH TRUSTEE STATE Alabama match words with actions to eliminate pollution.

Despite the "experts" odds that it would never work, David Kidd’s original goal with his FREE TREE PROGRAM was to help offset global warming by planting 3 million trees in his Ohio county of 300,000. Formed in 1988, it has mushroomed into 121 projects covering 9 states and will soon top the 10 million tree mark.

"Obviously it was very well received by the community, and it made me a kind of modern-day Johnny Appleseed," smiled Kidd when relating his mission to replenish the world’s forests at a recent international conference at Pittsburgh University. Kidd worked as a volunteer on the project for 2 � years and it spread to nearby counties. When funding came through, he was hired by the State Department of Natural Resources to take this project to all of Ohio’s 88 counties. And now other states are seeking his expertise. The key, notes Kidd, is volunteers. Lots of them. Over 2 million at last count. They are recruited in each community from churches, civic clubs, corporations, private businesses, individuals and schools.

Organizing statewide ventures like this is Kidd’s forte. His perseverance and success when "even the foresters said it couldn’t be done," is a stunning example of how one person can make a difference. "If I do anything well, it’s organizing," Kidd allows. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a seasoned speaker. And his Bachelor’s in Business Administration from Kent State University gives him additional savvy, not to mention 23 years experience in teaching stress management programs to individuals and businesses. Along the way he married and fathered 3 children, owned businesses, and became a consultant to corporations and non-profit organizations.

All the while Kidd has been developing and honing his skills while searching for his "niche." A search that started when he was 19 and, like thousands of other young Army recruits, was shipped to Vietnam.

"You only have so much time in your life," Kidd reluctantly explained when pressed to tell about his compulsion to make a difference. Becoming an environmentalist was not a priority when he was growing up, nor making any specific contribution to society. But pulling a tour of duty in Phu Bai, Vietnam, which, literally translated means "Valley of the Dead," brought him to terms with his own life.

"Anytime anyone faces their own mortality, it changes their life," Kidd explained. "They go into denial about the whole thing and basically drink themselves into oblivion to forget it--or they change their life in a very dramatic way. After 19 months in Vietnam I became very, very clear that I had a purpose in life and what it was. And that if I lived I would go the rest of my life working for that purpose.

"In a nutshell, the purpose is to raise my own consciousness to develop an original relationship with God and the universe and to share that with other people as much as I could.

"When I came back from Vietnam I was 20, but felt like I was 35. My mission was to do everything in my power to develop myself, and if I succeeded, to teach what I had learned. I made a deal with God that if I lived, that’s what I would do, and so here I am."

Kidd noted that once he had made his "deal," a profound sense of peace transplanted the fear that had begun to haunt him since arriving in Phu Bai. And when he returned stateside, he set about preparing himself for a task that was yet to be determined.

The FREE TREE PROGRAM might well prove to be his niche. The idea for it was spawned in 1988 when Kidd was canoeing the Missouri River in Montana. He’d read a report by the Arbor Day Foundation that the most cost-effective solution to the global warming problem was to plant trees.

"There is no one solution that is a cure all," Kidd concedes, "but the most effective to remove carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases, is to plant trees. So I felt that we should be planting billions of trees, not just tens of millions."

Kidd’s research indicated the biggest expense in any project is labor, so why not eliminate that cost by giving everyone a free tree and ask them to plant it. Of course he still had to get the money to purchase the seedlings, but that didn’t scare him.

"Most forestry projects are started by foresters," said Kidd, "but while most of the forestry experts are great out in the woods, they don’t know how to talk to people and certainly don’t know how to raise money. My experience is the best people to run a forestry project is a non-profit group led by someone who can raise the money and put the deal together. Then you use all the forestry people to advise you. We invite everybody who’s an expert in the area to be on a committee to sign off on the project in the beginning." Kidd has it down to an art. An Advisory Committee determines the most suitable tree for the best survival rate, and if seedlings are available. Local mayors, city councils, and county officials are contacted for endorsement. A board helps tailor each county’s financial projections and makes a proposal for the county and the distribution coordinators. Coordinators are usually Civic Club members. Kidd is especially partial to Rotary because he’s had such success working with them.

"We raise money in the Fall," notes Kidd, "and give out trees in the Spring. The media is very important and has been very kind to us. In Ohio alone, we’ve had over 1,600 stories on this program in the last 9 years. We’ve also been recognized by nearly every major environmental group in Ohio and the Nation, including awards from President Bush at the White House, and the National Arbor Foundation, and Renew America."

The issue of fund raising doesn’t bother Kidd either: "There’s no lack of money in this country, and I’m not afraid to ask for it." An important reason for his confidence is because donors get something substantial back. In fact, some of Kidd’s most surprising sponsors include Champion and Meade paper mills, oil and gas companies, and waste disposal sites.

"We actually get trees from Champion Paper for our Ohio project," said Kidd, who perked up when he learned Champion’s largest paper mill is located in Lawrence County, Alabama. "Donors like projects that work," he said. "They already give plenty to ones that don’t."

The FTP’s purpose, says Kidd, is to show how each person can make a difference. To plant trees on public and private land, and work together, not divide, to bring together "the lion and the lamb." "In Ohio, Meade Corporation has been giving us 200,000 trees a year, and our projects also get 250,000 trees a year from the National Tree Trust. Some of those are Champion trees, so they’re already one of our donors whether they know it or not.

"We are always proactive," said Kidd, a skilled mediator. "Our groups will never be involved in protesting the cutting of trees—because, for the time and effort you spend to go out and protest, you could be planting thousands of other trees.

"I cherish old trees," Kidd hastened to add, "and I try to save as many as I can, very quietly and positively, working with landowners and business developers. But you won’t find me tied to a tree. For one thing," the practical side of Kidd confessed, "no one would want to donate to our programs.

"We want donors to know we are very positive, that we are a low-risk and very high-profile group for them to be involved with. I’m not opposed to cutting trees when we need them," Kidd added.

"We need to look at each community and realize we live in a forest, even when we live in a city. We need to go back and look at every 10 foot square and see if we can put a tree there. Those are the trees that will be there for a hundred years."

Kidd says there is a movement to reforest cities, fields, farmer’s backwoods, and along rivers, ponds and ditches, and as windbreaks. "Putting back the trees that were removed during the 50’s. Those are the things we can do, and those trees will stay.

"In spite of the fact that Alabama is quite beautiful and there are lots of trees already," Kidd said, "there’s always room for a few more. I’d love to start a few FREE TREE PROGRAMS there."

Kidd’s interest peaked when he learned of Earth Day Founder, John McConnell’s mentoring trip in 1994 to meet with citizens concerned about Alabama’s environment and purported image as the "toxic waste dump of the nation."

McConnell’s trip concluded with an Alabama Town Meeting at Calhoun Community College. Citizens representing industry, civic organizations, environmental activists, students, teachers, and private individuals took part.

American Fructose, Decatur Utilities, EarthScope, 3-M, Monsanto, and Teledyne Brown, were some of the industry leaders who sent environmental experts. But the most impressive, everyone noted, was the intensity, knowledge and scope of the students attending from Huntsville, Grissom and Decatur High Schools. They didn’t just question present methods of eliminating corporate waste, they came up with viable and cost-effective solutions. The enthusiasm was so pronounced every person present went on record to commit to doing something daily, at home, school or workplace, to nurture nature and neighbor.

In response to Mr. McConnell’s challenge to find an Earth Trustee community to act as a role model, former Mayor Bill Dukes, now a State Representative, signed a proclamation making DECATUR, THE WORLD’s FIRST EARTH TRUSTEE CITY.

Huntsville, Morgan County, and WAAY-TV drew up similar proclamations, and most recently, Governor Fob James proclaimed Alabama an Earth Trustee State--dedicated to "…address and eliminate poverty and pollution in our state."

On the heels of that, YOUNG EARTH TRUSTEES, an offshoot of Earth Day, founded by McConnell’s colleague, Fred Burrous, was initiated in Alabama. Y.E.T.’s premise holds that children are born geniuses and "degeniused" the more they are exposed to society. Y.E.T.’s goal is to reach and inspire a desire in the young—at as early an age as possible--to nurture neighbor and nature daily. That done, according to Burrous, and the world will right itself. In 1995, Burrous and McConnell recognized Alabama’s efforts at the United Nations’ Earth Day celebration with a pictorial exhibition. Last year the mentors presented UNICEF a rendering of the Y.E.T. song, composed by South African Wandering Minstrel, Paul Tracey, and sung by youngsters from Huntsville’s Girls’ Inc! A future goal is to do a professional recording of the song with a cross-section of Alabama youths. Given the proper exposure, they believe it could rival the heights of the famous "We Are The World" song, and underwrite environmental awareness world wide.

Starting a FREE TREE PROGRAM in Alabama would be an ideal follow-up for your environmental firsts," pointed out Kidd, "and it’s actually not hard to do.

"We presently give trees to over a thousand schools," said Kidd, better known as the Tree Man, to several million kids. " Our goal is to give a free tree to every student in every grade in every school building in every county when we go into a state, and repeat that for 10 years. We wanted to create a whole generation of young people who have the opportunity, on a volunteer basis, to plant both deciduous and conifers, and learn what it takes to grow a tree.

"We have what we call TREE WEEK, where teachers prepare the students so they know what’s going to happen, how to take care of the trees and how to plant them. We send out instructions in advance and the kids actually package up the trees, staple on the instructions, on which incidentally, are printed all the names of sponsors. So when sponsors are giving money to this project, they know that even if they are giving $500, sponsors may get their name on a hundred thousand or fifty thousand trees that are carried home and handed to parents.

"If I were a doctor in a community, I would be happy to have 50,000 kids walk home and hand their mothers trees that say ‘Dr. Smith, Gynecologist,’ kind of thing. That’s just common sense. We’re talking effective advertising, now. When we ask for money, we ask ‘How much is it worth to you to get your name in BOLD print in front of this many consumers?’ The amount given determines the size of the print."

"We teach students the motto: ‘Plant a tree a year for life: for the tree’s life, for the life of animals, for your life, and for the life of the planet.’ So far it has worked pretty well," Kidd added. "We were told farmers would have the highest survival rate and the kids the lowest, but our research actually showed that students do better than farmers. I’m not surprised. The students know what we adults have forgotten—that each person can make a difference!"

In fulfilling his goal to insure his life has purpose, Kidd left the Valley of Death and created many valleys of life. And in so doing is creating a legacy of ‘Johnny Appleseeds’ in his stead.

For more information on the FREE TREE PROGRAM, contact Gerry Coffey at [email protected]

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