East LEAF Club Reforestation Project Takes Root

East LEAF Club Reforestation Project Takes Root
Posted on 10/20/2020
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Leaf club photoA once wide-open plot of land between Lakota East High School’s baseball fields and Interstate-75 now dawns about 60 trees - all thanks to the advocacy of the school’s LEAF Club and two critical community partners, Cincinnati’s Taking Root and Delhi Nursery. 


Since 2016, when the club deemed the one-acre plot a reforestation area, students have been finding a way to add more trees each year. It’s all being done in an effort to reduce noise and air pollution from the neighboring highway, while also increasing oxygen levels and providing more natural habitat for animals. 


These benefits to reforestation are all concepts that took root in environmental science class. For some students, LEAF Club has been their opportunity to put them into practice and grow their passion for environmental advocacy. 


“It’s just really important for me to have natural areas for students,” said Lakota East senior Meghan Sawyer, who serves as one of the club’s co-leaders. “Everywhere we go, we are surrounded by fluorescent lights and technology and pollution and we want to have a space that’s not that. [Planting trees there] keeps it sacred I guess.”


While COVID-19 restrictions kept the group from doing its annual tree planting event in the spring, they persevered to put their most recent grant to use once school was back in session this fall. The $1,100 grant from Taking Root is the third that’s been gifted to Lakota East since the reforestation area was established. It enabled the group to purchase 12 heavily discounted trees from Delhi Nursery, a critical partner in the club’s efforts. 


According to Lakota East teacher and LEAF Club advisor Mark Folta, the grant is designed to assist any program that supports biodiversity, protects natural habitat or reduces invasive species like honeysuckle and bradford pear. 


“They all seem to really enjoy making a difference and also knowing that they are contributing to a better awareness of our daily impact on the environment,” Folta said. 


Folta’s environmental science students, including those whose developing interest landed them in LEAF Club, do significant work to keep the school’s courtyard blooming with vegetation year-round. From a strawberry patch, grape vines and apple trees to tomato plants and even lettuce and spinach, students do all the planting and harvesting, ultimately sharing the fresh produce with East’s cafeteria staff to put to use. They’ve even developed a tree nursery, from which 12 small saplings were transplanted to the reforestation area this year. Another dozen are ready to be planted this coming spring. 


“We’ve learned a lot about how each aspect of the courtyard interacts with one another,” said Lakota East senior and another group co-leader, Brennan Postich, who said he had zero interest in gardening before discovering LEAF Club. 


The Club’s impact extends beyond its membership, engaging volunteers in its tree planting event and even just building awareness about the importance of recycling through its annual plastic drive, for example. The reforestation area will certainly be a lasting legacy, too.


“It’s a small thing we’re doing in the grand scheme of things,” said Lakota East junior and LEAF Club co-leader Mia Hilkowitz. “But it’s making a big impact and it’s really neat that it will still be here long after we graduate.”