Tell us a little bit about your organization, when and how did you get started?
Plant With Purpose was founded in 1984 by Tom Woodard. At the time, Woodard was volunteering in the Dominican Republic with a Christian relief agency, but he and his colleagues very quickly realized that despite their best efforts to help the poor, the situation was worsening.
Woodward saw that there was a direct connection between poverty and the environment that wasn’t being addressed by traditional aid organizations. He understood that since most of the world’s poor are rural poor, and are therefore dependent on the land for survival, any long-term solution to poverty would have to take into account how deforestation, and the resultant loss in soil fertility, affected income potential.
Plant With Purpose, or "Floresta USA" as it was initially called, was founded to bring a holistic approach to the fight against poverty that includes environmental, economic, as well as spiritual renewal. We believe that this three-part approach is the key to creating lasting, sustainable change, and we use a variety of techniques such as savings-led micro-credit loans, business skills training, and community development to empower the poor to solve their own problems.
Since those humble beginnings in the Dominican Republic, Plant With Purpose has expanded its program to include hundreds of villages in Haiti, Mexico, Thailand, Burundi, Tanzania, and the Dominican Republic.
Where are you planting fruit trees on behalf of Project 7?
In three regions in 84 communities in Haiti.
Why is planting fruit trees important?
Whenever we begin work in a new community, we always include planting trees because it is one of the most effective components of sustainable rural development. Although seemingly simple, planting trees is one of the most important things we do. By restoring productivity to the land, planting trees gives the rural poor a sustainable means to provide for themselves. Farmers are able to grow more crops. More crops mean they can feed their families and have extra to sell in town. As their incomes start to grow, farmers are able to invest in their household condition and send their children to school. Their families enjoy better nutrition and better health.
Trees provide many benefits to both land and people, but one of their most vital roles is protecting our water supply. Without trees, water resources vanish. More than one billion people around the world lack access to clean water, and we are able to rectify this situation simply by planting trees. Tree roots act as a sponge, allowing water to soak into the ground and springs, rivers and streams begin to flow. They also act as a filter, purifying the water we drink. They improve soil quality, and therefore the productivity of the land. They also protect against erosion, landslides and flash flooding, and are a critical part of the revolutionary style of agriculture that we teach in the communities we work with.
Is planting trees all you do?
No, planting trees is just one part of an integrated program of sustainable development. Tree planting is a high priority because it is the simplest form of sustainable development there is, restoring productivity to the land, and giving the rural poor a sustainable means to provide for themselves. Restoring the natural environment also influences the quality of life in a variety of ways—providing clean water, for example.
There are many other things we do besides plant trees. For example, we provide training in village savings and loan methodology, which helps communities save money and take out loans to start small businesses. Through this selfmicrocredit, we help farmers start other businesses so that they can decrease their dependence on the land and the community as a whole can diversify its economy. Over the years, we have financed dozens of businesses from mechanic shops and bakeries to beauty shops and tailors.
As our focus shifts from the sustainable development of families to the sustainable development of entire villages, the community takes over and Plant With Purpose takes on more of an advisory role. This is where things really get exciting as families start to work together to improve local infrastructure, and invest in and protect the natural resources of their community. Our greatest reward is a community that doesn’t need us anymore.
Since 1984, we have helped more than 48,000 people in some 250 villages lift themselves out of poverty. We have transformed tens of thousands of lives, empowering communities to take charge of and solve their own problems. And it all starts with planting trees.
Besides buying SAVE the Earth products, how can individuals and organizations support the work you are doing?
Help us spread the word about our work! “Like” us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter (“@PlantWPurpose”), watch and share our “Trees Please!” video (www.plantwithpurpose.org/trees-please). We also offer internship and volunteer opportunities at our San Diego office.
What is your favorite Project 7 product?
The water bottles because they help plant trees in Haiti, where there is a critical need for reforestation. We also like the Project 7 coffee, which we sell at our alternative gift markets across the country.