How Lodi Is Planting Roots For Our Future

Rotary volunteers planting a tree during the Arbor Day celebration

Rotary volunteers planting a tree during the Arbor Day celebration

One of my favorite scenic views in Lodi is driving or walking down Elm Street, between about Ham and School, during the fall. That chunk of Elm has a bunch of big, beautiful trees and during that time of year, all of the leaves are turning rich, autumny reds and yellows. It’s picture perfect and and always really makes me appreciate nature. Like lots of other people, I’m often guilty of taking trees for granted.  I don’t realize how much I appreciate them until they’re gone. On the first Saturday of April, a few friends and I joined a bunch of other folks at Hale Park to plant trees for part of the Arbor Day celebration put on by Tree Lodi and the City. There were lots of service groups, Scout groups, school kids and more all out there, shovels and gloves ready, to get to work. I was surprised so many people showed up early on Saturday to plant trees, especially since it had been pouring the day before. Tree Lodi had some speakers come up and talk to the crowd, they gave us a short demo showing us how to plant a tree, and then we were sent out all over the Heritage District to get to work. It was a lot of fun, plus a lot easier than any of us expected. The best part has been driving by afterwards and thinking, “Hey, we planted those trees!” and knowing that in that one spot, we helped to make a change that could potentially last another 50 plus years.

Lodi has been hosting an Arbor Day celebration for years. Steve Dutra, who is the head of Tree Lodi and leads this event, doesn’t know a specific date of when it started, but he says there’s always been some sort of celebration. According to Steve, when he was still a city employee, a woman, Mrs. Arilee Pollard who was a prominent Lodian, came into his office unannounced, threw this piece of paper on his desk and said, “You will do this for the city of Lodi.” “Well Mrs. Pollard what is this?” he asked. “There’s this thing called the National Arbor Day Foundation and there’s an award that I think the city should look into, which is the tree city USA award.”  She was instrumental in getting the city to look into that, and Steve has been involved ever since. This year’s Arbor Day was the 16th consecutive year applying for that designation. “It’s more of a pride thing.” explained Steve. “It doesn’t bring extra money into the city budget or guarantee anything, but that recognition helps. This year’s Arbor Day was funded through a Cal Fire grant and that designation definitely doesn’t hurt when we apply for grants. In fact, I think it gives us a little bit of leg up when we apply for grants and other competitive types of programs. Plus it definitely helps Lodi uphold that livable, lovable Lodi image.”

“It helps Lodi uphold that livable, lovable Lodi image.”

This year, the Arbor Day event partnered with 28 other organizations. Personally I think part of that is because people could feel how passionate Steve is, but he thinks it’s about something else. “I think we’re fortunate, from my perspective, it’s kind of an American flag and apple pie kind of thing. People may not know why they like trees, but they know they like trees… Then there’s the lovable Lodi branding Lodi’s had for years that plays a part in it.” Part of Tree Lodi’s mission is also education, so that helped them appeal to scout groups and kids, because after all “That’s our next generation. Hopefully there’s a future arborist out there.” Hopefully there is a future arborist who was inspired by Tree Lodi because as Steve was explaining the stipulations about the Cal Fire grant, he pointed out something really important that we tend to take for granted: trees give us clean, breathable air. Duh, we all know that, but how many of us actually consciously think about it? If anything we think, “Oh trees are pretty.” or “Thank God for shade from that tree.” We’re not walking around thinking, “Thank God that tree is there, it helps make my air more breathable.” When the city received the Cal Fire grant, it was their goal to plant 165 trees in the Heritage District of Lodi. The reason the trees would be going in, besides to look pretty, is that ultimately they would get large enough (up to 60 feet in stature) to help provide oxygen and remove carbon dioxide. This grant is literally is helping to make Lodi more livable, not just lovable.

“People may not know why they like trees, but they know they like them.”

Steve was a city employee, and although he’s retired now, he’s still really involved with the City of Lodi, plus he’s the leader in Tree Lodi. Steve jokes that his wife wonders if he really is retired, and I can understand why. If any of you reading this have ever had any involvement in anything park related or tree related in Lodi, you’ve probably talked with or been referred to Steve. It seems like the more involved I get in different projects, the more I hear his name come up! It made me wonder what inspires him to stay so active. “I’m blessed with having a life where when I was younger my parents lived out in the country so I got to grow up in that setting. I was involved in boy scouts and in high school I was the first student that Lodi FFA allowed to bring the study of forestry into the program. Instead of raising an animal I got to study pine cones and pine trees and other things. As a Delta College student I was very, very fortunate and I got selected to work at the National Park level at Yosemite during a break. I only got to be there for two weeks and I thought at that time maybe I wanted to be a park ranger but come to find out you have to carry a gun and that’s just not my interest. I never wanted to be a policeman. So while I was at Sac State about a quarter of my classmates went into state parks, another quarter went into national parks, a high majority went into park design and construction, I decided to go the park administration side of things. I didn’t want to carry a gun, my comfort level is not chasing the dollar, feast or famine type of thing. I started by cleaning public bathrooms, preparing ball diamonds, and that type of work and luckily was able to use my education and get into administration. Another thing I think that I really benefited from growing up is I’m the oldest of 5 children and I got the responsibility of taking care of my siblings, so learning the responsibility of being responsible for others at an early age. I think my mother did me a fair just thing. It’s a well rounded opportunity I’ve had that’s allowed me to have this career.”

“If you’re going to do it, wouldn’t you rather be happy?”

Another thing that really resonated with me when I asked Steve what kept him so inspired to give back was that when it comes down to it, he really enjoys his work. “Only about 12-15% of the American workforce, I understand, enjoys going to their job every day. Most of us don’t get to use our education if we have education. When my wife and I were raising our kids we didn’t care what they did. As long as they can support themselves and hopefully love what they do. Be a clown, be a trash can, be a professor as long as they pursued what they hopefully enjoyed doing every day, because if you’re going to do it, wouldn’t you rather be happy?” I couldn’t agree more. Steve is really blessed to not only have had a well rounded experience, but to be able to appreciate and be happy and motivated every morning when he wakes up because he knows he’s doing something important and that’s right with who he is as person. That truly is a blessing that so many of us spend a lot of our lives striving for, and here he is, enjoying it every day. No wonder he’s not really retired! I wouldn’t be either if I him!

“If I can have a little bit of involvement of having young people understand how everything is connected that would be amazing. ”

Steve is a passionate, wealth of knowledge.and Arbor Day is a really cool event. Steve isn’t sure what the future holds for Arbor Day, but in the past every three years Arbor Day is held at a Lodi Unified School District site and if tradition continues that’s where they’ll be next year.I need to chat with him again because he shared some really special information about a memorial program Tree Lodi does that I can’t fit into this story, and if you don’t already know about it, I think you would like it. As we were wrapping up, I asked Steve my favorite question: If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be. I thought he had a really beautiful answer. “Everything is connected. Getting everyone to understand how everything is connected. What you do and what I do could make a difference. So if I can have a little bit of involvement of having young people understand how everything is connected that would be amazing.” It’s true. We’re all connected, and what you do makes a difference, so take advantage of that and do something good.

Three Takeaways from talking with Steve:

  1. One way to encourage kids to love nature is by letting them grow up outdoors

  2. You should work in a job you love

  3. Everything is connected

Thank you to Steve for sharing his passion with me. If you’re a fellow nature lover, or know someone who is, click here to learn more about Tree Lodi. They’re always looking for more people to join their cause. Click here to find out how you can be involved.