Staffer helps London get to the root by aiming for the sky
By Leslie Kostal
March 07, 2013
Standing prominently at the side of the Beryl Ivey Garden, just behind University College, is a beautiful willow tree. Cascading delicate branches dare to lick the soil as they bend and sway in the breeze.
When Veronica Stoiber, Western’s director of donor relations and stewardship, finds herself on campus, she intentionally walks by that spot and admires her favourite tree.
Mexican born, Stoiber believes her passion for the environment goes back to her youth. “My mom was very strong in protecting and taking care of trees,” she said.
Living in Regensburg, Germany for six years reinforced her consciousness of natural resources.
“My husband’s family comes from a very tiny town in Bavaria, surrounded by forest. So I had the opportunity to be outdoors very often and it was beautiful,” she said. “There were beautiful walking trails. They really care about their environment and are very strong in recycling.”
Enter ReForest London, a charitable non-profit organization dedicated not only to boosting environmental and human health, but also having a goal to plant one million trees in 10 years.
Yes, that’s one million. A total of 4,935 London volunteers planted 5,508 trees and shrubs last year.
As a former employee of both Walt Disney World in Florida and United Way of London and Middlesex, Stoiber is no stranger to work with rewarding effects. In addition to her job at Western, Stoiber has jumped on board – the board at ReForest London, that is – to get the planting done by 2021.
More than a century ago, Londoners were encouraged to plant trees at a cost of 25 cents each. Some we can still see today. However, years of weather, disease and urban growth have depleted the ‘Forest City’ and its branding. ReForest London board members have thought up ways to bring our present 25 per cent tree growth up to the 30-40 per cent level.
In phase one of the challenge, the goal is for one tree planting per Londoner, or 350,000 in three years. By pledging or adding to the city’s count by planting a tree, Londoners can visit the website, milliontrees.ca, to add to the number that currently sits at 97,353.
“Believe it or not,” Stoiber said, “we are finding it very challenging to find areas where we can plant trees. We are hoping to motivate more companies and organizations.”
Currently, to avoid species which are too aggressive and endanger growth, ReForest London purchases only native trees from two local nurseries. Joint with the City of London, ReForest London provides a brochure recommending tree types. Schools and neighbourhood programs are guided by volunteers through a short orientation session.
“They will explain exactly what is the proximity from one tree to the other, how to plant, how to put the soil and then put the mulch,” Stoiber said.
The main objective, obviously, is for the survival of all trees planted. “There is an aftercare program so once they are planted there is a plan in place to do the follow-up,” she said.
To promote awareness of trees in our community, Londoners have participated in the Amazing Tree Quest by nominating a favourite tree using the organization’s website. One of Stoiber’s top picks had a story that accompanied the tree, planted by a mother in honour of her ill son.
“She wrote this beautiful paragraph about it,” she said. At the winners’ ceremony, the story was read aloud. “It was just so beautiful to hear.”
Coincidentally, without Stoiber’s knowledge, the tree ended up being practically next door to her own home.
Celebration Forest is Stoiber’s favourite annual event.
“People are invited to come and plant a tree in honour or in memory of loved ones. Groups get together as well. It was just so beautiful having all these people with the same aim, goal and love for trees,” she said of an event that has grown to more than 300 people attending the last event held next to the Westminster Ponds.
“I can only tell you that my experience with ReForest London has been very, very positive. We have a very dedicated board and staff and everybody is really working hard toward achieving the goal. We just hope,” she concluded, “that everybody would feel as passionate as we are about preserving and planting more trees.”
Leslie Kostal, web administrative assistant, Department of Economics, writes periodic pieces profiling Western staff members. If you, or someone you know, has an interesting story to tell, please email her at Leslie.Kostal@uwo.ca.
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