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Planting 1000 trees, Saving 100 acres

by Camino Verde
Planting 1000 trees, Saving 100 acres
Planting 1000 trees, Saving 100 acres
Planting 1000 trees, Saving 100 acres
Planting 1000 trees, Saving 100 acres
Planting 1000 trees, Saving 100 acres
Planting 1000 trees, Saving 100 acres
Planting 1000 trees, Saving 100 acres
Planting 1000 trees, Saving 100 acres
Planting 1000 trees, Saving 100 acres
Planting 1000 trees, Saving 100 acres
Planting 1000 trees, Saving 100 acres
Planting 1000 trees, Saving 100 acres
Planting 1000 trees, Saving 100 acres
Planting 1000 trees, Saving 100 acres

Dear friends of Camino Verde,

The history of the Amazon could easily be written as a chronological inventory of products discovered—and then over-exploited—in the world´s richest forest. Quinine, rubber, mahogany, animal skins, oil, gold: each chapter would tell of how another amazingly useful wonder of nature was found and, almost without exception, driven to the verge of extinction to the great detriment of the ecosystem as a whole.

While bulldozers, chainsaws, and pipelines are a few of the more familiar symbols of rainforest destruction, one of the most bizarre episodes in this history relates to environmental harm at the hands of…essential oil distillation equipment.

This is the unexpected, true story of one of the world’s best smelling trees—and thankfully, an opportunity to write a new, more hopeful chapter.

Scent of the rainforest

Palo rosa, or Brazilian rosewood, is a large canopy tree named for the rich floral aroma of its leaves, branches, bark, andwood.  In the beginning of the 20th Century, this incredible rose-like scent caught the attention of the perfume industry, leading to a period of extreme over-harvesting.  But harvesting is probably too nice a word.  Finding the aromatic essential oil in every part of the plant, trees were literally dug out of the ground, roots and all.  

The wood was shredded or chipped as finely as possible and then passed through makeshift distillation equipment set up in the middle of the jungle.  Entire populations of rosewood were wiped out in huge areas of Brazil, Peru, and elsewhere. Before long, rosewood exports declined sharply due to a lack of available "material," and the perfume industry instead turned to synthetic scents and chemical equivalents.  Few people in the region of Madre de Dios, Peru even remember this brief, glorious, tragic burst of wealth from such an unlikely source.

Today, Brazilian rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora) is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List of Threatened Species, as well as Brazil´s official list of endangered flora.  

Rewriting history, one tree at a time

Ever since we started planting trees, finding rosewood seeds has been a sort of holy grail for me personally and for Camino Verde´s mission to protect the most endangered trees of the Amazon.  This tree is so endangered that it took us five years to find a source of seedlings.  I am thrilled to report that as of this moment, close to 750 seedlings—baby rosewoods—are sitting in the plant nursery of one of our allied organizations, awaiting the start of the rainy season to be planted at our reforestation center.

In addition, we´ve teamed up with the Peruvian Amazon Research Institute and the Center for Amazon Community Ecology (CACE) to bring the potential benefits of rosewood reforestation home, where they belong, to the native people of the Amazon.  We are propagating an additional 1,200 rosewood tree seedlings vegetatively (reproduced from cuttings) at a nursery in the Loreto region of northern Peru.  With Camino Verde providing oversight and technical assistance, CACE will help us make a home for these wonderful, highly endangered trees in one of its partner native communities.

But the coolest part is this: because essential oil is held in every part of the plants, we are working to refine standards for a sustainable harvest of rosewood—allowing for the production of essential oil without harming the trees (in fact, timely pruning can be beneficial to the trees´ growth).  By 2015, don´t be surprised if you see the first samples of rosewood essential oil from Camino Verde and the Center for Amazon Community Ecology.

Be a part of the change

We need your help to make this important work with palo rosa a reality.  A generous grant from the Marjorie Grant Whiting Center has enabled us to purchase our first small-batch distillation equipment for making sample essential oils.  But we are still $5,000 away from the funding we need in order to realize the project’s full potential: for larger, production-scale distillation equipment and to make good on the promise to share our reforestation experience with native communities that want to plant rosewood.  A sustainable future for rosewood, and many others of the Amazon’s amazing trees—your contribution can help grow this vision into reality.  

And now your help counts double.  Through the generosity of one of our long-time donors and supporters, in October through December (right now), all donations to Camino Verde will be matched, so that every dollar you give will count for two.  For as long as the matching funds last, your $100 donation will allow us to plant 40 trees, rather than the usual 20. 

We are grateful for your support—and so excited to see one more of the Amazon´s marvels protected for future generations.

Warm greetings from Tambopata!

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Dear friends of Camino Verde,
For this GlobalGiving project report, I'm reprinting Camino Verde's last Missive.  (Please let me know if you'd like to be added to our regular mailing list.)  It takes us back to basics, to probably the most fundamental question that can be asked about our work...  
Why save the Amazon?  I mean, why should we care?
Well, let´s see... Let´s start with the obvious.  One out of every three species of everything on Earth-- plants, animals, you name it-- call the Amazon their home: one in three.  One fifth of the world´s fresh water is found here.  Different sources give different figures for the percentage of the planet´s oxygen produced here, but needless to say, it´s a lot. 
I don´t mean to sound melodramatic, but without the Amazon, we´re all in trouble. 
But why should we care, enough to do something about it?  Here´s my version of why.  Before I founded Camino Verde, I worked with a few other non-profit organizations here in the Peruvian Amazon.  And while these organizations all had noble aims and good intentions, there was a real disconnect between the ends and the means.  Here we had projects and NGOs working for great causes: conservation, sustainable development, the protection of wildlife habitat.  But the means used to pursue those goals were insanely inefficient, absurdly ineffectual, and tragically indirect.  I mean, local people were left scratching their heads, or else downright outraged at how outsiders had once again blown through budgets with few tangible fruits.
I remember thinking, we can do better.  We the human race, can do better.
In founding Camino Verde it was really vital to me to marry the ends to the means-- in fact, to ensure that the means were an end unto themselves, the sort of clichéd truth that what you do is often only as is important as how you do it.  That´s one of the meanings of our name, which is "green path:"  it´s about how we live and act. 
Plus, when I founded the organization, I was 23, 24.  I wanted to act, now.  To do something that made a difference, that had an impact in and of itself.  And that was when I started to plant trees.
To me, it´s sort of the ultimate version of a zen koan, or a snake eating its own tail, where the means is a noble end in and of itself: planting trees.  And the Amazon is home to some extraordinary trees.  I started hanging out at lumber yards, sawmills, the ports where people brought their products in from the forest.  And in talking to my neighbors I made a list.  It was a list of the top 50 over-exploited tree species.  On it were some powerful medicines, and world class timbers, and exquisite, exotic fruits.  I asked around, and to my amazement nobody-- no government institute, no NGO, no individual-- was bothering to plant most of the trees on that list.  But at those ports, day in and day out, the timber and the direct evidence of the destruction of those trees was staring me in the face.
It didn´t take an expert to foresee that dwindling wild populations lead to impoverished genetic diversity within these species, meaning that so few adult trees are left that in some cases we can no longer trust the genetic diversity-- meaning the genetic resilience-- of these trees´ offspring, if indeed they´re ever allowed to have any offspring.
So I started with those trees.  And in fact, more than five years later, I´m still checking species off that list.  Seeds for many of these trees are harder and harder to come by; experience with planting them, nonexistant.  I´ve gone on some wild "off-list" tangents as well-- by now, we´ve planted a total of over 250 species of trees at Camino Verde´s reforestation center-- but the goal remains: to plant at least 200 trees of each of these key species, that in time will become a true Living Seed Bank.
I was talking about ends and means.  And here it is in the simplest terms.  The goal: to protect the biodiversity of the Amazon.  How to do it: we plant trees.
As always, I extend my deep gratitude for all the support we receive in this work.  A friendly reminder: just ten dollars helps us plant two trees.  Won´t you help us plant a few, or a few dozen, today? 
Also: December 1-10, 2012, we hold our first ever Sustainable Living and Ecological Design Course for all of you interested in visiting, volunteering, and working with us here in beautiful Tambopata, Peru.  Information on a pretty flyer is available on our Facebook page (or let me know if you want a copy in your email inbox). And finally: the new and improved is coming soon! So now is your last chance to see the previous version.
Thanks so much for your interest and support.  Warm regards,
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Dear friends of Camino Verde,

For those of you who have been keeping your fingers on the pulse of our project on GlobalGiving, you may have noticed that we have expanded-- and expanded again-- the goals and timeline of our project.  This was in great part due to the fact that we were able to complete our original goals in record time.  Thanks to your help, we hit the mark for funding, planted those 1000 tress, and saved those 100 acres of land.

And now I´m pleased to report that we have once again reached a major milestone in our project.  One of the most important of our expanded goals was the creation of an on-site plant nursery that will allow us to take this projects name of "Planting 1000 trees" and turn it into a recurring cycle.  In fact, the nursery that we´ve created with your support will allow us to propagate over 2500 tree seedlings each year!

And now comes the real work...  We still need your help to realize the potential of this extraordinary new nursery.  The part of our budget that has yet to be funded is designated for the most important and direct part of our work: the planting of trees.  As you can see on our project page, just $10 will allow us to plant 2 trees.  Why not help us plant ten, twenty, a hundred trees today?

Meanwhile, if you want to get a more vivid sense of what that tree planting might look like, we are excited to present a new short video on Camino Verde´s work in the Peruvian Amazon.  Check it out here.  (Many thanks to Camino Verde volunteer-visitor Lara Weatherly, the visionary creator of this documentary.)

Many thanks for your support and interest, and warm greetings from the Peruvian Amazon.

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Dear Friends,
I'm copying here Camino Verde's latest email Missive, which was very popular with our supporters this month.  Please let me know if you'd like to be included directly on our email list.  We send out Missives 3 or 4 times a year.  I hope you enjoy it! ....

Camino Verde is in an exciting period of transformation and growth.  Now, usually in these missives I give you a summary of what's new with Camino Verde.  And I will do so, briefly, at the end of this one.  But first I want to tell you a bit about what makes the work we do so meaningful to me.
When people ask me what Camino Verde does, I tell them what our mission says: we plant trees.  And encourage others to plant trees too.  This usually makes people think of little seedlings in planting bags, or the image of hands carefully placing a plant into the soil.  And indeed it was a photo of just that which appeared on one of our very first missives.  
But now when I'm out walking in the twenty acres of trees we've reforested, it seems to me that the seedling maybe isn't the appropriate image anymore.  The exact tree pictured in that old missive photo is now taller than me.  We have breadfruits that are perfectly respectable climbing trees at this point.  Pink cedars that at two years old are eight inches in diameter and several stories high.  Jackfruits that are adorned with watermelon-sized offspring.  Hundreds of trees planted by our partner farmers that are now taller than the farmers themselves.  And it's a particular thrill to stand in the midst of five hundred moena hardwoods that are now all nearing ten feet tall, remembering well the month we planted them all.
Maybe I should be telling folks, "We plant trees, and then we take care of them."  We watch in awe as they grow past us in size and weight and majesty.  We end up wide-eyed at their power and humbled at how their lives improve, and even allow for, our own lives.  We pretend that we're the ones doing important work, while they silently remove tons of carbon from the atmosphere and help the soil spill over with microscopic life.  We are in the business of sitting at the feet of the true master environmentalists.  At least that's how it feels to me.
That, and it feels like an honor.  To advocate, to steward, to serve these extraordinary and beautiful bearers of life.
Since the average Camino Verde tree is no longer a baby, it seems to make sense that we are now building our own plant nursery to keep bringing in those new generations.  The first nursery module for producing a thousand seedlings a year was finished this month (photos here).  Everything comes full circle.
The organization isn't a seedling anymore either.  In 2012 we continue to deepen our alliance with the Center for Amazon Community Ecology, creating sustainability standards for the harvest of Amazonian medicinal plants and developing community-level reforestation plans.  We're about to raise a 20-foot water tower to keep our nursery well supplied.  The Peruvian Society for Environmental Law just awarded us a grant to build a visitor center to receive our increasingly frequent stream of volunteers.  Carpe Diem Education placed an intern with us for a semester and brings another group of students our way in April.
And we just got a total of 2500 trees into the ground to start the year off right-- 1500 we planted ourselves, and 1000 that went to our partner farmers.
These are just a few of the accomplishments that keep us busy.  But what makes me so proud is to see so many seedlings that we planted, many from seeds we harvested from the forest, now towering above us, providing shade, making the world beautiful and livable, teaching us what it really means to care about the Earth.  The name Camino Verde refers to a path of cherishing and fostering life.  And on this path it is the trees who are our great teachers.
My warm greetings, and gratitude always for your awareness and support. 

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visitor admires the beauty of Camino Verdes trees
visitor admires the beauty of Camino Verdes trees

With 2011 coming to an end, I’m very excited to announce that in just 13 months on GlobalGiving, Camino Verde has generated almost $30,000 towards planting trees and protecting wild lands of the Peruvian Amazon. 

As I write these words, Camino Verde staff are busy planting over 1200 trees in celebration of the start of the rainy season here in Tambopata, Peru.  Over a thousand trees this week—business as usual.  $30k in our first year on GlobalGiving?  Cause for celebration.

That’s why between now and January 31st, we will plant a tree for every new “like” on Camino Verde’s Facebook page.  As I write this, 2,072 people like CV.  In the next month and a half, let’s see how many trees we can get planted.  Spread the word.  Every person who clicks like on our page is one more tree planted in the Peruvian Amazon:

Meanwhile, since our project’s duration has expanded to include all of 2012, I am once again raising our budget goal from the 30k of this first year to 50k, which we hope to hit by the end of 2012. 

And of course each time the budget expands, our objectives do as well.  The expanded budget includes planting another 1000 trees at Camino Verde’s center, as well as planting an additional 1000 trees with the participation of our neighboring farmers.  We are also continuing development of our on-site plant nursery, by the end of 2012 set to be fully functional for producing 2500 tree seedlings a year.

Thank you once again for your interest and support.  And have a wonderful holiday season.

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Organization Information

Camino Verde

Location: Concord, MA - USA
Facebook: Facebook Page
Project Leader:
Robin Van Loon
Concord, MA United States

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