Neighborhood Forest provides trees to Minneapolis students

Students at Lake Harriet Community School pose with tree seedlings they received from Neighborhood Forest in 2017. Submitted photo

A local organization is giving close to 7,000 tree seedlings to students in six states this year, including hundreds to students in Southwest Minneapolis.

Neighborhood Forest will provide the seedlings for no cost to students at Lake Harriet Lower and Carondelet schools and United Methodist Preschool, among others, in conjunction with Earth Day and Arbor Day. Its goal is to give children a way to connect with nature, which could in turn inspire a sense of environmental stewardship, director Vivek Narula said.

“The simple act of tree planting, it has such an important role to play and such a big impact,” he said.

Narula, who grew up near Toronto and lived there for nearly 20 years, has been director of Neighborhood Forest since 2013. His brother, Vikas Narula, founded the organization in 2010, modeling it after a program in which he participated as a college student in Fairfield, Iowa. In three years with the program, Vikas Narula and his friends distributed over 30,000 trees to tens of thousands of schoolchildren across southeast Iowa.

“It was the most rewarding work I had ever done,” Narula wrote in a 2013 blog post. “Seeing the smiling faces of all those kids, knowing that we were doing something that was going to beautify our communities — it filled my soul with feelings that no amount of money could buy.”

Narula moved to the Twin Cities after graduating and worked for years in the medical software industry. He made the decision to start Neighborhood Forest in 2009, after a viral infection forced him to take an extended leave from work.

“As you can imagine, this gave me more ‘free’ time than I had in a long time,” he wrote in another blog post. “I read, listened to music and did a lot of reflecting.”

Narula wrote that he kept coming back to his work on the trees program while in college, adding that he made up his mind to start a similar program. His organization gave away 450 trees at four schools in Minneapolis in its inaugural year and in 2015 gave away close to 5,000 trees and more than 40 schools in six states.

Vivek Narula estimated that the organization will have distributed 28,000–30,000 trees after its big distribution this spring.

Neighborhood Forest relies on local businesses and organizations to sponsor the program at area schools. The organization distributes the seedlings to students, who typically plant them in their families’ yards.

Vivek Narula said the organization tracks the trees over time. He added that the trees it provides are native to the states in which they’re distributing them and said he hopes the organization can expand to every state.

Schools interested in receiving trees this year can still reach out to Neighborhood Forest about participating in the program, Narula said.

The Fulton Neighborhood Association sponsored trees for Lake Harriet Lower, Carondelet and United Methodist Preschool.