I live in the Des Moines River valley, where some of the oldest, biggest trees in Iowa grow. We’re talking trees that existed here before pioneers settled Iowa, trees so big that it would take four grown men in a circle to wrap their arms around the trunk.

I used to take photos of my neighborhood each fall, when the towering trees on our street changed color.

But today, my neighborhood looks nothing like it did three years ago.

In August 2020, a derecho storm, delivering hurricane-force winds, ripped through our town. The windstorm destroyed many of the 100-plus-year-old trees up and down our street.

I look back at my old neighborhood photos now with nostalgia - and a touch of sadness. Yes, it’s a cliché, but I never realized how much I loved those trees until they were gone.

Unfortunately, the remaining trees in our neighborhood aren’t doing well. The derecho accelerated the tree damage from emerald ash borer, an invasive pest that’s relatively new to Iowa.

This summer, tree removal crews took down 16 dead ash trees in our neighborhood. (I counted the number of freshly cut tree trunks on my daily walk.)

Without the trees, we lost the shade in our yard. My daughter and the neighbor kids don’t want to play outside in the heat of the full sun.

Coincidentally, I listened to a recent podcast featuring a Phoenix city official, who said crews there were planting trees to provide more shade on the sidewalks during the hot desert summers.

Now I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for trees and why we need to plant more of them.

Farmers also love their trees

Close to home, Iowa farmers also understand the value of trees. When strategically planted, trees can help beautify the countryside, provide shade for farm animals and people, and benefit the environment.

Trees also act as natural carbon sinks, removing carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas – from the atmosphere.

For more than a decade, the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers has helped livestock farmers plant hundreds of trees across the state through the Green Farmstead Partner program.

The program, which is supported by Trees Forever and the Iowa Nursery and Landscape Association, connects farmers with nursery specialists to plant tree windbreaks on farms.

The windbreaks not only are beautiful to look at; they also are proven to help with snow control, offer wind protection and reduce odor around barns.

Farmers must devote time, money and effort to get the trees established once planted – often loading up water tanks and spending hours watering each individual tree in the summer heat.

Yes, it’s hard work, especially when farmers are already busy juggling farming, family and community responsibilities.

Yet farmers truly love growing things – whether it’s crops, farm animals, kids or trees – and improving their land for future generations.

Tree planting resources

If you’re interested in learning more about the Coalition to Support Farmers and its Green Farmstead Partners program, please visit https://www.supportfarmers.com/greenfarmsteadpartner.

And if you’re an Iowa homeowner and are interested in planting and caring for trees in your landscape, check out the following resources:

Learn more about author Teresa Bjork here.

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