By Lindsey Putz, Director of Corporate Giving

Attending the GreenBiz 2018 conference was my first trip to Arizona. I grew up in Michigan and currently reside in D.C. While both places are beautiful, escaping the winter for a week in Phoenix was a welcomed opportunity. I left 30-degree weather combined with rain and humidity in D.C., and flew into 70-degree, sunny and dry weather. I wasn’t complaining!

Thanks to GreenBiz and Clif Bar’s support, American Forests had the opportunity to host a native desert restoration planting for conference attendees at the North Mountain Park Visitor Center at the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Our awesome local partners, Phoenix Parks and Recreation and the Arizona Sustainability Alliance, put together a really fun day for everyone.

I was skeptical when I found out in advance that we would be planting cacti. How does one plant the prickly cacti? The answer is, carefully.

A group of 25 conference attendees from various industries and departments came together to plant almost 75 native trees, cacti and other vegetation. We all listened intently as we were taught how to wrap a rubber hose around a cactus, lift it up and hold it in place, while other volunteers set rocky soil around it.

A demonstration of how to properly plant a cactus.

Then we broke out into groups to get our hands dirty.

Volunteers digging a hole in preparation for planting.

Our group leader, Claire, corrected our mistakes as we clumsily planted a small saguaro cactus. She also shared the many ecological benefits of the saguaro with us. Its flowers and seeds are a food source for small animals, birds can build nests in it, and it is efficient at storing carbon dioxide.

American Forests staff member Eliza Kretzmann finishes planting a saguaro cactus.

As one of the other volunteers in my group accurately described it, the saguaro is like the sea anemone of the desert. It protects birds nesting in it from larger predators with its spiky exterior.

Who knew? Well, probably most folks from the Southwest, but certainly not this Midwesterner.

As we continued planting, Claire frequently reminded us to stay hydrated. As she put it, “If you’re thirsty, you’re already behind.”

The event was empowering, informative, fun and challenging. We wrapped up the day with delicious Clif Bars and a group photo, got back on the bus and talked about our planting experiences. From what I heard on our bus ride home, I wasn’t the only tree advocate in the group.

American Forests staff members Lindsey Putz, Jennifer Broome and Eliza Kretzmann (left to right).

There were a lot of smiles and new friendships formed, and all of us had learned new, interesting facts about the desert landscape. We took pride in what we were able to do for the environment. We felt more content to spend the rest of the day sitting in conference sessions.

I have been working with American Forests for nearly two years, and my passion for our work grows every day. Being a part of this planting opportunity took my passion for trees to a whole new height.

Plenty of smiles to go around after our amazing group of volunteers successfully planted 75 native trees, cacti and other vegetation in Phoenix.

I encourage anyone who has thought about planting trees, but hasn’t had the opportunity yet, to do so either at home or through work. American Forests has many employee engagement opportunities for you and your coworkers to get involved!