1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever

by Camino Verde
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1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever
1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever

Dear GlobalGiving Community, 

We are so excited to share that thanks to you, we have reached our funding goal for Camino Verde’s project of 1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever. We feel so blessed to have had your support – and are excited to announce that our work in the Peruvian Amazon lives on, with a new project page on GlobalGiving: Regenerate the Peruvian Amazon!

Whether you are a one-time donor or a long-time ally, please consider making a recurring donation to our new GG project today. You can do so here.  

Your support of 1000 trees a year 1000 acres of rainforest forever helped us to accomplish SO much. Here’s a quick who’s who of the some of the outstanding highlights: 

  • Over 150,000 trees were planted with GG donor support
  • Over 100 Amazonian families participating in our agroforestry programs
  • 5 participating native communities and 2 mestizo communities
  • 400 species of Amazonian trees planted (!!!!)
  • 4 native tree nurseries were established and managed in 2 regions of the Peruvian Amazon
  • 15,000 endangered rosewood trees planted
  • 70 hectares were acquired for conservation of primary forests and restoration of deforested areas 

Where do we go from here? 

The goals of our new project focus on:

  • Generating long-term sustainability for and with rainforest communities through “keystone” native tree species like rosewood, planted in highly diversified agroforestry systems
  • Growing our agroforestry livelihood programs with more native communities in 2 regions of the Peruvian Amazon: Going from 100 participating families to 250 in the coming 3 years
  • Planting more native trees on deforested lands in the Peruvian Amazon: 75,000 trees a year (or more, as funding permits) 
  • Protecting and conserving more actress of pristine rainforest (we have a preliminary offer on an additional area of 16 hectares)


We hope you will consider supporting our work because your donations, no matter how small or big, keep us planting trees, hundreds of species, and tens of thousands of individual seedlings a year! 

We are especially requesting Recurring donations to our new project because even small recurring monthly donations allow us to more clearly plan activities months in advance. Rather than giving one time, consider splitting up your donation over the year! With a recurring donation of as little as $10 a month over the course of a year, you really do help bring stability to our financial planning. Give to Regenerate the Amazon today!


With sincere gratitude from all of the Camino Verde team!


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Dear Friends of Camino Verde, 


Can you believe that our project, 1000 Trees a Year 1000 Acres of Rainforest Forever,

is almost 100% funded?  We have just $5,198 left to raise! 


We send a sincere Thank you! to all of our 1,958 supporters on GG, you who have helped us keep achieving our goal of planting 1000 Amazonian trees a year on deforested land in the Peruvian Amazon and protecting 1000 pristine acres of primary rainforest. A huge milestone this year – we were able to expand this conservation area by acquiring additional land (just last month!). Your contributions have made a significant impact and contribute not only to capturing carbon and restoring vulnerable landscapes but also to uplifting local jungle communities. 


By the way, when this project is fully funded on GlobalGiving, we're starting a new one! Our work continues, and we hope you will consider following its growth at the new project page. (Link coming in our next bulletin. More on this below.)


What is that work we’re referring to? Here are some of the accomplishments of this project in its years on GG:


  • Over 150,000 trees planted with GG donor support
  • Over 100 families participating in our agroforestry programs
  • 5 participating native communities and 2 mestizo communities in the Amazon
  • 400 species of Amazonian trees planted (!!!!)
  • 4 native tree nurseries were established and managed in 2 regions of the Peruvian Amazon
  • 15,000 endangered rosewood trees planted
  • 70 hectares acquired for conservation of primary forests and restoration of deforested areas 


Our new project – going live as soon as our current project funding goal is met! – will be a direct extension of our work to date, and includes:  


  • Generating long-term sustainability by empowering local communities through native tree species planted in diversified agroforestry systems
  • Growing our agroforestry livelihood programs with more native communities in 2 regions of the Peruvian Amazon 
  • Going from 100 participating families to 250 in the coming 3 years
  • Planting more native trees on deforested lands in the Peruvian Amazon: 75,000 trees a year (or more, as funding permits) 
  • Protecting and conserving more actress of pristine rainforest (we have a preliminary offer on an additional area of 16 hectares)


We are thrilled for this work to spread its wings and grow. Thank you for being the breeze that keeps us floating seeds to new regions.  I hope you will consider helping us to complete our current project goal by making a donation today.


Best regards from Tambopata, 

Robin Van Loon

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Dear friends,

This month is our last of three sharing the voices of CV visitors' experiences interacting with the Peruvian Amazon. We’re celebrating 2021’s return to some semblance of normal by featuring the stories of a few of the people who have lent their talents to making Camino Verde successful. 

This report shares about the first time at Camino Verde for Blair Butterfield, who since that visit has returned to Peru and – for over a year now – has been CV's communications director. You can thank Blair for the improvement in our communications and social media! And now we get a chance to learn a bit about how and why she decided to start working in Amazonian regeneration after that first time in the jungle. 

You can enjoy all the past months' reflections from guests of yesteryear on the CV blog page.

And – because people keep asking – we’re happy to report that indeed, now we are able to receive visitors once again!


There’s nothing like being completely ringed by primary forest, it hugs you with its warm breath, it surrounds you in an auditory landscape that attunes your primal senses, and it floods your olfactory, creating a memory so unique, it will be hard to recollect or describe it when you are back to your normal life. 

Arriving to Camino Verde, via Peru’s many airports, I can’t help but think of the story of colonists coming to this country and delivering the violent fate that we all know. In the Lima airport, there are sky-high ads for designer brands, hanging like gods over your head. White, tall, emaciated models, you know the ones, the legacy of colonization still driving us to social and environmental depletion. 

Going from Lima to Cusco to Puerto Maldonado airport, things began to get more humble in appearance. The Puerto Maldonado Airport is very small, a little dingy, and inoculated with the buzzing energy of its city. Walking out of the airport is like having someone breathe hot air onto your face.  Palm trees sway in the background, the horizon is totally green and invites you to go with the flow. There are a myriad of men on small motor carts and motorcycles who offer you rides, their colors are vibrant, yellow jackets that you see swarming around the city like bees buzzing on a flowering bush.



Into the Jungle

But Puerto is not my final destination. I am greeted by Robin, my colleague and host, then we are driving to a rural area where we get out of the car and begin our walk through the jungle. We hike in further and further and the forest grows denser and denser. Robin has a machete that he uses to trim the path as we walk along; he occasionally turns to offer me crushed leaves of various species of plants to smell. We cross over spindly bodies of water via fallen trees, we tiptoe, shimmy, and balance trying not to slip and fall with our full bags on our backs. We pause for moments to observe unique mushrooms, beautiful flowers, strange insects, and I take various Polaroids to document our journey.

After about two hours of walking through the forest and smelling many different scents, we arrive to a river and to a boat, a small canoe-like vessel with a tiny motor.  It is a relief to drop my bag, which contains a large scanner and photo equipment inside. We travel the river for what feels like an hour, moving across the water like a dried palm frond floating just on the surface. We putter against the deep and murky water surrounded on all sides by the unique ecotones of rusty colored mud, thick swaying clumps of golden grasses, giant tree crowns standing out of a blanket of bursting green canopies. The motor is loud, it is hard to hear anything, or to think, you just are.


Being Together

In Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgement, he attempts to define the concept of the sublime. One of his arguments draws out the difference between beauty –which is dependent upon an object and has bounds– versus that of the sublime, which has a quality of boundlessness. I find that I understand what he is trying to say when I bear witness to something that is much larger and more expansive than myself. (The concept of the sublime is an attempt to describe a human experience or emotion that arises out of us, and is not exclusive to those of us who happen to be concerned with philosophy!)  

Perhaps it’s a feeling like when you’re sitting under a completely dark sky on a tributary of the Amazon River and you can see the dust of the Milky Way and the planets that surround us. We comprehend our mortality as a species – but see the mirror that reveals the vastness of our spirit. Winding our way along the river, amidst the tapestry of raw earth and all her transformations, it is almost palpable to feel the wisdom humans once had dissipating into the cosmos, lost forever.



We arrive at the Reforestation Center and we are greeted by Olivia. She is a strong, beautiful woman with long inky black hair. She wears mud boots and often carries a machete to clear footpaths. She later becomes a close companion during my visits, I will stay in her house, practice my Spanish with her, meet her family, she will teach me plant names, we will discuss intimate topics of being a woman, relationships, and our hopes for global change. But for now, she greets us on the banks and ties the boat up. We quickly drop our things in our stilt houses, strip down to our bathing suits or underwear and go swimming in the Tambopata River. It is silty and muddy, our feet sink down uncomfortably deep. The water is surprisingly cold even though it’s so hot outside. 

Before coming to the Amazon I had read legends of anacondas, of little fish who swim up your urethra, dysentery, mercury from local gold mining, legends of the forest and the river judging your soul and having the ability to take you out of this life. But I let all that be suspended, my heart is full of love and joy. I embrace the imperfections of myself, I am a whole person who is a child of this planet. I swim in the river, I even put my head in. Floating on my back in complete suspension, surrendering my anxiety, my thinking, releasing the person who I think I am, my identity, the stress of the world, of jobs, of money... and I just let the river take it all. I think of Mary Oliver‘s poem, The Summer Day. The end of the poem asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do, with your one wild and precious life?” and I answer, “this.”




For the rest of my visit, I mostly went without shoes, I wanted to be barefoot on the muddy earth, I allowed my skin to receive all the new additions to my localized ecology. To become integrated with the new environment, to rewild the body. 

More guests arrived at the reforestation center including an olfactory artist and refined “nose” out of New York City. A distillation was made of moena alcanfór essential oil. We watched the distillation process for most of the day and when it was complete there was a bucket full of hydrosol. The olfactory artist introduces me to hydrosol bathing. We take the bucket near a huasaí tree (Euterpe precatoria), we strip down to our skin and we take turns pouring the moena hydrosol over each other‘s heads. We giggle like little girls as we take a shower in potent and magical botanical aromatics from the Amazon. That night we slept beautifully and both of us reported in the morning of wild and vivid dreams. 

I spend my days collecting plant material, learning about trees, and walking around the forest. I feel like I quickly assimilate, and familiarize myself with the Reforestation Center’s various paths, planting projects, nurseries, rhythms of the day held by the team members, and when it is time to leave, my heart breaks. It breaks because this is such a magical place, it breaks because when I return to the United States I see there is a rigidity in our culture. It is fast-paced, there is a constant demand for production and to use our time efficiently. We do not take siestas, we do not take time to sit and socially share herbal tea or mate. It is not common for us to receive our neighbors unexpectedly at lunchtime, abandon the productivity of the day to share conversation and what is at our dining table.



Integrating the Experience

The saddest part is that this magical land is threatened, it is vulnerable, it is being extinguished by the demands of a global economy. Returning to the United States and seeing cacao, açaí berries, bananas, any tropical fruits or spices, reminds me of the critical status of the landscapes and people who produce these products. I ask myself, what native land was destroyed to produce this item for a mass market? Or, which of these items are supporting work being done to protect these places? I make choices to vote with my dollars, I vote to support my local farmers and product producers (I live in Vermont, so there are lots to choose from), and when I buy other products or ingredients, I vote for regenerative, ethical, and sustainable practices. 

When I eat cocoa nibs I remember the fragile wild ecosystems that are full of magic, mythologies, dying languages, and I know I can make choices to help preserve and uplift these places and people so they do not become extinct.

Since soon after that first visit to the Reforestation Center, I am now the Communications Director for Camino Verde. That means it’s my job to bring the Amazon to life for people who might not have ever thought they were connected to it. It is a passion project that I contribute deep work, thoughtfulness, and time to with my entire heart. I hope this story might inspire you to spend more time barefoot, to let go stress, to vote with your dollars to support regeneration, to donate to Camino Verde’s work or maybe even visit the Reforestation Center yourself. 



The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

   —Mary Oliver


Me with a giant lapuna tree. Photo by Michelle Gagnon

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Dear Friends of Camino Verde,

For those of you who are experienced Report readers (and, wow, we’ve been sending these out for over a decade now), you know that we tend to give a mix of concrete news, hard facts on numbers of trees planted, and – as much as possible – compelling stories from the Peruvian Amazon. We’d like to think that the stories and pictures can help make Camino Verde’s work feel a little more real and tangible. 

We want the strategies to make sense but we also hope that what you read makes you feels something. It’s meaningful to us, and we hope it’s meaningful to you. Because after all, dear reader, you are the ones who keep us at work. Your donations keep us planting trees, hundreds of species, tens of thousands of individual seedlings a year. 

And, it is your interest and awareness and belief that are what really keep the lights on at Camino Verde, really keep the wind in our sails. Did you know? The majority of you receiving this Report have volunteered, visited, or donated. You have impacted – and maybe been impacted by – CV. These reports are notes to a small but worldwide circle for which we are so grateful. Thank you for being a part of our journey.

The story I’m excited to share with you today is about a program years in the making and yet just now turning one year old. It’s a story from Peru, but it comes from a whole other Amazon, far from the region of Madre de Dios that CV has called home for 15 years. That’s right, Camino Verde’s program in the northern region of Loreto – home to the Amazon River proper – is now just past its first birthday. So let’s go to Loreto, let’s meet the team, and talk about what it is that has Camino Verde up there in the first place. 

Because I know you’re busy and some of you are here for the hard facts, let me give you a few stats before the story. In our first year in Loreto it looked like this:

  • Over 100 families participating in our reforestation programs
  • Over 30,000 trees planted
  • Over 8,000 of those trees are highly endangered rosewood
  • 5 native communities participating
  • Over 50 hectares of diverse agroforestry systems established
  • Over 50 hectares of rainforest voluntarily kept in conservation by the participating families 

With those headlines out of the way, let’s talk about how it all happened. Buckle up, I believe you’re about to be inspired. 


A Tale of Two Regions

Many will be surprised to learn that the area of Peru that is covered by rainforest is as large as Turkey, is around the same size as Pakistan. Not everyone knows that Peru is big. 60% of the surface of the national territory of a country so often characterized as Andean is in fact east of the Andes, down in the humid tropical broadleaf forest.

Madre de Dios, the region or departamento of Peru where Camino Verde was founded, is at the southern extreme of that C-shaped expanse of Amazon that helps make this one of the top 5 mega-biodiverse countries in the world. Madre de Dios alone is the size of Austria, or South Carolina. It borders Bolivia and Brazil, and its southern- and westernmost portions are in the foothills of the Andes, not that far from Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca. CV first set up shop in MDD’s Tambopata River basin in 2007, when it all began.

And as of 2020, we finally did the same, set up shop, in a second region called Loreto, the northernmost extent of that Amazonian C-shape and of Peru’s national territory. Loreto is by the far the largest departamento in Peru. Rounding out our size comparison exercise, its territory is one and a half times larger than Ecuador’s (thanks in part to Peru annexing a large piece of Ecuador into Loreto, not that long ago historically). Loreto is the same size as Germany, as Japan, almost as big as Montana, larger than Vietnam and significantly larger than say, New Mexico or Poland. 

And Loreto is home to the place where the world’s largest river assumes its name. At the confluence of the Ucayali and the Marañón is the place where the river starts to be called Río Amazonas. Iquitos, the capital of Loreto and the largest city in the Amazonian portion of Peru, technically serves as a seaport, thanks to the Amazon’s deep channel, even though it is thousands of kilometers upriver from the mouth at the Atlantic.

In addition to its impressive territorial size, Loreto is also home to a much higher population than sparse Madre de Dios. Hundreds of native communities representing dozens of ethnicities dot the hinterlands on the squid-shaped river map in the surroundings of Iquitos, placed where it was due to its proximity to important convergences with significant tributaries: the Nanay, the Itaya, the Napo, and indeed the thickest roots of the tree of rivers, the Marañón and the Ucayali. 

For those astute readers, you know that it’s nothing new that CV has been in Loreto.  Our first report describing CV activities there was in 2011 (10 years ago!). And it’s true, we have been fortunate to get our hands dirty planting trees in the region starting in 2013. But it’s only since 2020 that Camino Verde has a real presence – a team of our own – in Loreto. What a team it is, and what a year it has been.

Let me tell you a bit about how we got there.


Rivers Flowing Together 

Believe it or not, it was thanks to some wonderful folks in Pennsylvania. In this small world in which we live, the Marjorie Grant Whiting Center (unfortunately, no longer functioning) provided a small grant for a young Camino Verde to get to know better another MGWC grant recipient that happened to also be working in the Peruvian Amazon, the Center for Amazon Community Ecology (CACE). CACE founder Campbell Plowden of State College, PA visited Madre de Dios that year, and I had the chance to visit a few of the communities where CACE works in northern Peru in – you guessed it – Loreto. 

CACE and CV have been close allies ever since, and you’ll probably recall many photos in these reports taken by Campbell, who is an excellent photographer. It was thanks to the relationships that CACE carefully cultivates with native communities that CV was given a warm welcome in these far-flung, deep forest communities. And it was via close and thoughtful collaboration that CV, CACE, and our native community partners first embarked on the reforestation of the highly endangered, highly valued rosewood tree (Aniba rosaeodora).

Rosewood is a special tree. Its fragrant essential oil was an ingredient in Chanel No. 5 until aggressive wild harvesting rendered the species highly endangered throughout its homeland in the area between Iquitos and Manaus, Brazil. Rosewood is a familiar and culturally significant species to our community partners, some of whom also remember seeing trees cut from the forest and distilled back in the rosewood heyday. The IUCN Red List and CITES both consider rosewood endangered and subject to control measures to prevent it from going extinct. Yet a black market continues to fuel rampant unsustainable extraction of the few old growth, seed-producing trees left. Illegal harvest of rosewood continues in the Peruvian Amazon, to the species’ great detriment. Reforestation efforts are needed but are extremely few and far between.

Which, at the same time, represents an opportunity. The same markets driving illegal extraction can also be seen as incentivizing regeneration of the species. As we’ve described before in these reports, it’s an example of the adage popularized by permaculture, that “the problem is the solution.” Because there is demand for rosewood oil still (and thanks to the simple fact that you can produce the essential oil from the sustainably harvested branches just as surely as you can produce it from the tree trunk), rosewood can therefore be reforested profitably, to the benefit of those who plant it. 

Back in 2012 when planting rosewood was just a seed of an idea, a glimmer in our eye, it actually wasn’t the case that CACE and CV sat down and picked the first community with whom to plant rosewood. Rather, the reason we got to planting rosewood at all was because the community itself approached us about reforesting rosewood, wondered at its viability as an economic activity, remembered its exploitation in the past, reaffirmed in the present its symbolic importance in certain ceremonies, proudly stated the name for the tree in their own language. The decision to plant rosewood came from the community. CV and CACE simply acted as squirrels, seeking out seeds to disperse to new forests.  


Growing Back Forests 

We were lucky to find the first seeds the following year, thanks to the Research Institute of the Peruvian Amazon (or IIAP, its initials in Spanish), and our first 500 or so trees were planted in the community in 2013. CV and CACE have continued to develop rosewood programs ever since, with growing community enthusiasm. Fast forwarding the following years of proof of concept, we hit some major a-ha moments and breakthroughs along the way:

  • 2017 – experimental harvest of branches for distillation begins
  • 5 families begin receiving monthly income from sale of harmless harvest rosewood branches to CV
  • 2018 – by community demand, more rosewood is planted, with a 2nd native community added to the planting cohort
  • 2019 – first flowering of trees
  • 2020 – first production of seeds 

And so it was, with the vocal support of the communities with whom we designed the project, that we proposed to the Flemish Fund for Tropical Forests to expand our rosewood planting in Loreto. The largest grant in CV history, FFBT agreed to contribute to our ambitious 2-year vision to truly take our rosewood proof of concept to the implementation stage. 

With the ink still drying on our cooperation agreement with FFBT, I headed out to Loreto to interview and hire the first members of the emerging CV Loreto team. With Campbell and the great CACE crew I’ve known for years, we delivered the project’s first 8,000 seedlings to the first 2 communities participating. We got back to Iquitos, and before we got the muddy boots off our feet, Peru announced that the following day it was shutting down all flights, domestic and international, and initiating the state of emergency for Covid-19.



Carlos is a Spanish agronomist 11 years in the Amazon, who trains native community members to raise Amazonian stingless bees. Klaus is an animal rights activist working toward the creation of a rehabilitation center for rescued wild animals. Jacmen is a native community member who for the last 3 years has distilled essential oil with CACE and CV. This is the core team of CV Loreto, hired on just as the pandemic was hitting, stalled at the time in long distance trainings via whatsapp calls and audio messages. Now over a year later, the team is strong, confident, and responsible for reaching additional native communities, with whom CV is interacting for the first time. Last month they took a boat load of seedlings, literally, to 2 newly participating communities. The month before that it was an even larger boat, with a record breaking 18,000 seedlings delivered in one go. 

Working in native communities of the Peruvian Amazon is demanding – the mosquitos, the heat, and the complex socio-economic realities of hardworking communities everywhere. And so we’re especially grateful that are team is led by Carlos, with his extensive experience in indigenous communities in the Loreto region and his in depth knowledge of Amazonian farming realities. Klaus and Jacmen are from the region and the latter was born in one of the communities where we work, and that embeddedness in the community is key to our success. 


What Comes Next

Now back to the hard facts.

In Loreto in 2021-22, we’ll be planting another 30,000 trees, rounding out our efforts in the first 5 communities we work. By the way, we’ve planted over 40 species of trees in the highly diversified agroforestry systems that define our work. With that, the first 5 communities will have “complete” rosewood agroforestry parcels, able to generate income for families in 3 years’ time. Even as we continue to monitor tree growth in these communities, we will incorporate another 3 native communities into the cohort by the end of 2022. 

With 6 families currently selling us rosewood branches, this number will reach 112 families when this year’s trees achieve harvestable age. As we have done with the first 6, we’ll assist each family to register their “forestry plantations” with the corresponding authority, allowing for full legal transparency of origin. 

Our tree planting and harvest of tree-sourced products in Loreto is now being documented using CV’s very own RealTrees technology, an innovative approach allowing us to monitor growth of every single tree planted and later to give proof of origin for the harvest of branches from rosewood trees. Look for us to talk more about the new technology in our next report.

The last year has been bright and inspiring. The year to come will consolidate this progress into substantial change. We couldn’t do it without you. If you feel excited about anything you’ve read today, please consider donating to Camino Verde.  We are grateful for your support.


Best regards from the Peruvian Amazon,



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Happy New Year dear friends,

For Camino Verde, 2021 is off to a jump start.  In spite of COVID, in spite of all that has been so hard this past year, now more than ever we are making significant strides on our mission to restore the forest landscapes of the Amazon by strengthening forest communities.
In the first month of the year:

  • We delivered 5,000 tree seedlings to the smallholder farmers and native communities with whom we grow endangered species like rosewood, bringing direct benefits to the people of the rainforest.  
  • At our primary reforestation center we prepared 3,000 more rosewood to be planted.  750 already are in the ground, and 1,000 native vanilla vines as well. 
  • In our nurseries a hundred species of Amazonian trees are growing strong, awaiting their chance to be planted out in the next two months that form the height of the rainy season.  

Coming up in the first half of this year, we will plant 50,000 more trees in 6 Amazonian communities.  We’re thankful to be able to do it.

Gratitude continues to be the baseline of our experience, as it has been over the last 12 months.  We’ve all experienced a new normal, then a different new normal, then something that doesn’t seem so normal after all, and now here we are.  We’ve all coped with loss, with solitude, with questions about why the world is the way it is – and how it could be more like the world we know is possible.  And despite the depth of the challenges and the lack of familiar sources of support and optimism, we are grateful.  We are grateful to be alive, grateful to be on this planet, grateful for the chance to learn, to grow, to deepen, to heal. 

Indeed, we’re grateful for everything you’ve helped us create.  Camino Verde as an organization continues to provide livelihood to a team of 20.  As the world has shaken all around us and inside of us, our staff and their families appreciate this work more, take it less for granted, than ever before.  They and I are humbled by the possibility of continuing to do work that is regenerative rather than destructive to the landscape, to the Earth we call home.  I know I’ve said it before, but we can’t do it without you – and we wouldn’t want to.  Our community’s belief in what we do is what makes it so meaningful. 

With tremendous gratitude and with optimism for what the future holds, in this month’s Report we’d like to give you a sort of a tour, of one area of our principle reforestation center in Tambopata, Peru.  Think of it as a chance to visit the Amazon, to visit Camino Verde, even when travel is impossible, even as snow falls in many of your necks of the woods.  So, imagine the temperature rising, the thunder of the rainy season sounding in the distance, and a few dozen species of birds vying for your ears’ attention.  You’re surrounded by trees, some of which you probably won’t believe were planted in the last 15 years due to their size.  Have you got the mental image? 

Well then, come with me for a little walk around the place.

What you’ve helped create

This morning first thing, before the sun was resplendent and hot, while walking the short fifty-yard path from my doorstep to the kitchen, I was surrounded by a sound that reminded me first of an arriving storm, or of distant rain approaching from across the river.  A moment later, the slight modulations in the pitch and tone of the noise made me think of an airplane or the far-off sound of an outboard motor.  But this was no storm, no motor cutting its way against the current.  The hum, growing in volume, was from bees, thousands of them, up at dawn and off to work and filling the trees with motion and with sound.  

It was no coincidence they were there – the bees were delighting in the flowers of a tree known locally as sangre de grado, a medicinal tree, and I was strolling past an area of a couple acres where 11 years ago we planted 250 of them with a group of young volunteers from the United States.  We selected this species to plant because of its medicinal resin.  A member of the rubber family, botanical name Croton lechleri, its latex is a dark blood red in color – giving the tree its common name, sangre.  When applied to wounds, burns, and bites, the resin dries to form a seal over the hurt spot and proceeds to heal it with incredible speed.  Amazonian people have known about the resin’s properties for probably thousands of years, and more recently it has found its way to world markets both in raw form and in sophisticated extracts approved by the FDA.

Sangre de grado typically grows along rivers, meaning it prefers access to abundant water and sunlight, the latter of which is sometimes in shortage in the dense primary forest of the Peruvian Amazon.  It behaves like a pioneer, springing up to fill in areas of recently exposed mud left behind when a river changes its course.  The tree grows quickly, and many of these 11-year olds are well over a foot in diameter.  This, the ecology of the species, was another reason we selected it for planting, and in this precise location.  The plot is in a low-lying area along the descent to the Tambopata River, below the highwater mark, experiencing at least one flood rise a year.  In fact, last week the chocolate milk-like waters had reached several feet up the trunks of many of the trees for a period of just over 24 hours. 

Flowers in the canopy of sangre de grado.

This is great for the sangre de grado, a riparian species, and also great for the native palms we interplanted between the trees.  Many of the Amazon’s mega-abundant fruit palms grow naturally in flood zones or areas of forest with months of standing water each year.  As such, the species known locally as aguaje, huasaí, sinamillo and ungurahui are planted in the spaces between sangre de grado, along with cacao and a few of its wild relatives who appreciate the shade as well as the fertilization provided each time the river drops Andean sediment at their feet, layer caking over the roots with rich minerals not readily available in the Amazonian lowlands.  The planting system was designed to fit its location.  You could say that it’s the product of thousands of years of local ecological knowledge, born out of culture and the landscape that the culture inhabits.

We also chose to plant sangre de grado here in the interest of bringing back forest canopy quickly – as it’s an impressively fast-growing tree, capable of growing 10 feet in 2 years.  Like all of our reforestation plots, this was an area that had been slashed-and-burned by the previous owners for production of rice and bananas.  The clearing of a farm is like a wound to the forest, leaving its sensitive soils exposed to harsh sun, nutrient-leaching rains, and in this case the possibility of erosion, being washed away by those river rises that could once again be beneficial as soon as the ground is stabilized once more by networks of tree roots.  And so, just as this tree’s resin seals human wounds quickly, so too did the trees themselves help seal a cut into the forest in record time.

Now the sangre de grado trees are in flower, bursting with bees, impossible to know just how many hundreds of thousands of them packing into the canopy each day.  It’s an incredible sight if you can get high enough to see it – the tree crowns spangled with minute white flowers that glisten like tiny jewels a day after a rain.  It’s not hard to imagine how each of these trees, covered in flowers, represents an irresistible feast to the bees.  And because of the tree’s ecology, riverbanks hosting dozens or hundreds of sangre de grado are found throughout the Amazon basin like natural gold mines for their pollinators.  Our planting system has simply imitated, successfully, a form found in the wild.  In the months to come, their flowers will transform quickly into green fruits no bigger than a peppercorn, that eventually dry out and pop open in the sun, flinging their sesame-sized seeds as far as possible, some to be carried on a river rise to new banks to colonize.

White bark, bright against a sky dark gray with warning.  Roots in the river, blood running through the trunk, a crown full of bees.  This is the ecology of a tree that has been referred to affectionately as a doctor in many a native community.  It’s just one of over 400 Amazonian species we’ve planted here on the farm, the farms, that Camino Verde has initiated and grown over the past 14 years.  Now, as I walk under the hum of its flowers undergoing transformation into honey, there’s no escaping the sensation that these trees are alive.  Grown thoughtfully, with consideration to location, diversity, and the cycles of the landscape and its waters, this plantation doesn’t know it’s a plantation.  Indeed, it thinks of itself as a forest. 

An 8-year old rosewood tree (Aniba rosaeodora) in flower at Camino Verde’s primary center.

Growing forests for people
A plantation of sangre de grado behaves like a forest, or in other words it is ecologically effective, a closed feedback loop capable of achieving and maintaining its own balance, aligning its forms in harmonious functioning.  By including long-lived hardwood trees in the planting mix, eventually, after the first few years, there is no need for third party interventions or corrections enacted by the human planters.  Its “ecosystem services” are working, and we can see this clearly in the quantity and enthusiasm of the bees.  But they are not alone in enjoying what these trees make possible, as attested by the capuchin monkeys that we observe in the early mornings or at dusk on a weekly basis – who use the 11-year old, quickly established canopy as a helpful corridor running parallel to the river.  Yes, the forest is working as a forest.

Yet in a manner of speaking, what Camino Verde does is to grow forests for people.  You might say these are forests that work for the people, by producing things we find useful, feeding human families along with the bees and monkeys.  We have discovered, as so many others have before us, that forests are generous enough to provide for all of us, humans and non.  It’s not a zero-sum game where either we win or the monkeys win.  Rather, there’s enough to go around for all of us.  Besides, we don’t like the same things the monkeys like.  In a planting parcel such as the one described here, think of the diversity of products rendered for human benefit: the sangre de grado resin, obviously; the oily fruits of the native palms; chocolate from the cacao; vanilla from the native orchids that climb some of the trees; honey from the bees; mineral-rich fertilizer from the river (well, and from the monkeys for that matter) that we can haul by the wheelbarrow load to our tree nursery to fill planting bags that give a start to more future forests.  The list goes on.

The fruit pod of Vanilla pompona, the Peruvian Amazon’s most aromatic vanilla species.

As I make my way walking under the sangre de grado canopy, I am reminded again and again of the variety of values provided by trees, species by species, the many gifts they give us, if only we are able to recognize them.  My nose receives the intoxicating perfume of sangapilla, the small palm Chamaedorea angustisecta whose dioecious nature means there are male and female plants.  The females produce seeds, the males only flowers. But what flowers they are.  Bright yellow and covered in ramichis – golden, silent, tiny, native stingless bees – the male flowers’ aroma is curiously volatile.  Taking a close-up whiff often results in little to no scent perceived.  But walking in the neighborhood of a sangapilla plant in flower as far as a hundred yards away, sometimes you’ll get a direct splash of a bright, sweet smell that for some reason has evolved to float by at a distance – and to be very attractive to us mammals.  People here plant it in the patio so that the aroma will invade the home.  Some jungle old timers have even used it as a perfume, soaking the flowers in aguardiente for a month before patting the now-yellow liquid on clothing or directly on the skin.  This is just one more aromatic plant, one more sweet-smelling tree in a forest of thousands of them, on a farm that gives hundreds of species a home.

Arriving to the kitchen after these brief minutes’ meander, my eyes take stock of the fruits we have brought in in the past days.  Exotics like coconuts, mangoes, jackfruit, oranges, grapefruit and bananas sit elbow to elbow with native fruits like cacao, arazá, caimito, copoazú, moquete de tigre, sacha pitanga, and açaí.  Thinking back to the last month or two, the list grows to include a dozen more species, and looking forward to February we can add even more, pijuayo, ubos, and huayo blanco.  About a hundred of the species we have planted here have edible fruits or nuts.  The wild forest we protect holds several hundred more.  And those are just the tree fruits.  Diversity and abundance are explosive, but this is not unique to the Amazon.  Each landscape has its extraordinary retinue of generous providers.  Nature knows how to endure hunger, but famine is a human invention.  Scarcity is a product of our systems, not hers. 

The open male flowers of sangapilla (Chamaedorea angustisecta) are visited by ants as well as stingless bees.

Coming home
Have you ever stopped and thought about just how many plant species we interact with in a single day?  If we were to make an inventory of each plant that we touched and that touched us on any given morning, the list would grow quicker than our ability to keep up.  The hardwood floor under our feet, the olive oil on the bread (wheat), our coffee, the flowers on the table, perhaps the table itself (cherry or oak), the trees lining the street (wise sycamores or elegant elm), the grass of the lawn, the fallen leaves we brush off the windshield.  If you’re having a salad at lunch, the list grows exponentially.  So, who said we are separate from nature?  There’s no animal hip to such a diversity of beneficial plants as us humans.

When we acknowledge ourselves as ecological actors, as a part of nature rather than separate from it, we are actually empowering ourselves.  We are reigniting ties to our oldest cultural and biological experiences – such as the experience of being an avid observer of life, a naturalist, of caring about the non-human world in a way that is not unlike how we care about the human world.  How could you not care about the life upon which your own life depends?  This is a deeply rooted part of who we are as a species, thoughtful and knowledgable about the plants and animals we rely on.  This comes across strong in our traditions and our societies, most of them, since we first walked upright.

A Christmas turtle, no more than 2 inches long, that we found on the riverbank here in Tambopata, Peru on December 25th.  After the photo shoot, this charapita returned to the water.

Back here on the farm, in the treetops the atatao is making the call that gives it its onomatopoeic name (“ah-ta-tao!”).  Toucans are whistling their insistent, loping rhythm as they swing their beaks upward and side to side.  Dove-like ground birds call out in a solemn, almost sad manner.  Oropendolas imitate everyone else and then punctuate their mockingbird act with sounds all their own – like water drops amplified over a loudspeaker.  So yes, indeed, the forests we grow are not only for people.  Or as one of my Peruvian teammates states it, not only for the human people. 

Perhaps I speak for you too when I say, this is the legacy we want to leave, and this is the way of life we want to lead.  One in which we don’t see humans as the only people, one in which our gifts as a species exist in coordinated service of a greater whole, the web of life.  When we think of ourselves as smarter than the rest of nature, we forget that we are nature.  That nature is smart through us, in us.  That our intelligence is a gift but also a sort of a mission or purpose, has a role to play that extends beyond our own benefit.  We are smart enough to provide for the people even at the same time as we provide for the monkeys and for the bees.  We can build forests that outlast us.  Heaven knows our grandchildren will need them.   

If Camino Verde is an organization attempting to rebuild forests, it is also a group of people who carry this mission in their hearts.  We believe in it and we mean it.  And so, as we seek different tools and wiser strategies to make reforestation contagious, we also operate by necessity at that vital human level of culture, to share and to inspire, to excite others to take the kind of action that we know is possible.  Just as a tree produces flowers that are irresistible to the pollinators, nature provides experiences that we, as humans, need.  We can’t live without the forest, without the river, without the rain.  We can’t survive without the food they provide, but we also owe the beauty of our cultures’ artifice to the raw materials that the land gave us. 

In recognition of this truth, and in gratitude for all we receive, the microcosmic act, the minor work, is the planting of a tree. But this act is dedicated in service of a macrocosmic intention, a great work, the seeding of a way of thinking and a way of life.  Restoration presents itself in how we walk, the footsteps we leave behind us, but it is also in the song we sing while we walk, the prayers we sustain like an ember kept alive over a long journey.  We think of regeneration work as rendered to the land by the people – but also to the people by the land.  Perhaps it isn’t too late for us humans after all.  Perhaps the forest is just now calling us home.  I believe we still have time to heed that call. 
Thank you for reading, thank you for walking with us.  We are grateful to you and grateful for what the future holds.  And we’re honored to get to share this path together.

In the spirit of regeneration,
Robin Van Loon
Founding Director
Camino Verde

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Camino Verde

Location: Concord, MA - USA
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Project Leader:
Robin Van Loon
Concord, MA United States
$212,882 raised of $200,000 goal
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