Building on seven years of efforts in Central Virginia to plant trees at churches and community spaces, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and partners will remove pavement, install conservation practices, and plant hundreds of trees in Richmond and Petersburg under a new grant.
By removing heat-absorbing pavement and replacing it with shade trees, the effort will cool neighborhoods where research shows extreme heat threatens the health of residents. The conservation practices will allow trees to absorb moisture and rain to soak in where it lands, reducing polluted runoff and flooding.
“Working hand-in-hand with churches, schools, and parks, together we can improve the health and wellbeing of residents while also creating cleaner air and water,” said CBF Virginia Director of Outreach and Advocacy Ann Jurczyk.
The grant awarded this month by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation supports the planting of 300 trees on Richmond city property and work with up to seven churches to remove pavement, install stormwater practices, and plant trees and native plants. Major partners include Interfaith Power & Light, the City of Richmond, Groundwork RVA, the Virginia Department of Forestry, Southside ReLeaf, and the Richmond ToolBank.
This expands on the Greening Southside Richmond Project, which since 2020 has planted 650 new trees in Richmond neighborhoods suffering from extreme heat linked to racially-motivated housing discrimination in the past. Today, some of these neighborhoods can be up to 16 degrees hotter than tree-covered parts of the same city.
The link between extreme heat and redlining is documented in a recent study by the Science Museum of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Portland State University.
Working with faith communities has been central to these planting efforts. Starting in 2015, CBF worked with Second Baptist Church of South Richmond to remove part of their parking lot and plant a rain garden that reduces runoff to James River. The project also supported the creation of an urban farm and community garden that is irrigated with rainfall collected from the church roof. The effort has supplied fresh produce to the community and sparked a farmer’s market.
At Branch’s Baptist Church in Richmond’s Southside, in 2018 CBF worked with the church to plant 100 trees on their property. That project led to a larger effort completed this year at Branch’s Baptist that removed 20,000 square feet of pavement and reforested the area with trees.
Under the new project, CBF will partner with Virginia Interfaith Power and Light (VAIPL) to work with five to seven churches to assess, develop, and install green practices on these churches’ properties. The groups will also host a series of educational webinars to help faith communities in their environmental stewardship efforts. The webinars will support clergy in fostering the connection between congregants and the environment and discuss ideas for greening their churches.
“We are excited and ready to work with several faith communities in the Richmond and Petersburg area and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to improve water and air quality,” said Faith Harris, executive director of VAIPL. “Helping faith communities learn how to actively participate in lowering temperatures, improving water quality, and reducing their energy use is important for addressing the impacts of the climate crisis. These faith communities and their members have the potential to support meaningful community involvement in protecting the watershed, and the benefits will reverberate for years to come.”
Southside ReLeaf, which strives to foster a healthy, equitable, and sustainable environment for all residents in South Richmond, is an important partner in the effort.
“We are excited to continue our work with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to greenline communities impacted by the legacy of redlining and urban renewal,” said Sheri Shannon, co-founder of Southside ReLeaf. “In the last two years, planting and caring for trees has generated a lot of enthusiasm and interest from our neighbors in South Richmond. We look forward to educating, engaging, and empowering more residents to create healthy communities.”
The City of Richmond has worked closely with the groups to plant and maintain trees on city property.
“Parks, Recreation, and Community Facilities is grateful for the dedication and partnerships of nonprofit agencies looking to fill the gaps within the urban canopy. The work that has been completed to date will provide lasting benefits for all that utilize the green space in Richmond,” said Tamara Jenkins, spokesperson for Richmond’s Parks, Recreation, and Community Facilities Department
Recent high school graduates will take part in hands-on training for green jobs while planting trees, maintaining them, and landscaping as part of Groundwork RVA’s Green Workforce Program. These youth will gain marketable job skills by learning techniques for landscaping, tree planting, and maintenance.