Cleaning up litter, recycling and conserving water are all good ways to help the environment, but what about drinking a beer?
Created by two local companies with a strong connection to the environment, Solar Impact Inc. and Swamp Head Brewery, Tree Fest is a free annual celebration of trees. During the event, held at Swamp Head, every beer purchased directly funds the planting of five longleaf pines at the Little Orange Creek Preserve in Hawthorne, Florida. This year’s event is planned for 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, April 23, purposefully nestled between Earth Day (April 22) and National Arbor Day (April 29).
“As a brewery, we can only plant as many trees as the community helps us with,” encouraged Brandon Nappy, Swamp Head’s tactical marketing manager. “The more people that come out, the more trees we plant.”
The purchase of food, other beverages and Tree Fest T-shirts available at the event will also contribute to planting trees, so those who don’t imbibe (or who just want a delicious pretzel) can also contribute. Family friendly activities, such as bounce houses and games, are also planned during the day from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and the organizers are planning for live music for the adults after dark.
The tree plantings from the funds raised at Tree Fest are carried out by the Alachua Conservation Trust (ACT), a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the natural, scenic and recreational resources in and around Alachua County. ACT and Solar Impact first began scheming to plant more trees locally in early 2014, when they developed a program in which every solar installation completed by Solar Impact funded the planting of 500 to 1,000 trees. Later that same year, Solar Impact and Swamp Head teamed up to install solar at Swamp Head’s recently relocated headquarters, making it the first solar-powered brewery in the state of Florida.
“Swamp Head is a really progressive company when it comes to waste and the environment,” said Mike Garrett, Tree Fest’s event coordinator and Solar Impact’s sales and marketing director. “They wanted to demonstrate their commitment to the environment when they opened their new brewery, and solar power was the first step.”
Longleaf pines, the specific type of tree that Tree Fest will fund, are native trees whose numbers have diminished over the years because of their utility as timber. The trees have the longest leaves of all eastern pine species and grow to be very tall, reaching 80 to 100 feet at maturity. One could say that longleaf pines symbolize continued steady growth and longevity, as they can live for more than 300 years. According to Ivor Kincaide, land manager for ACT, the pines’ long lifespan and other characteristics were not the primary reason for choosing the species, but they are certainly unintended positives.
“Restoring our area’s original and natural beauty is our main driving force,” Kincaide said. “The longleaf pine ecosystem used to cover a large portion of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. We want to help restore that.”
To aid in this restoration, ACT’s goal is to plant about 5,000 trees a year. In its first year last April, Tree Fest singlehandedly raised enough money to plant four times more than that, with the final number reaching 20,543 trees.
According to Garrett, the biggest success of the event was seeing the community come together.
“The community’s response was incredible,” Garrett said. “It really showed how much Gainesville cares about our trees and local landscape.”
In addition to the money raised from event attendees, all of the funds collected from sponsorships go directly toward planting trees. Last year, Tree Fest’s 25 generous sponsors contributed enough to plant 12,719 of the over 20,000 trees the event successfully funded. The goal this year? Go even bigger.
“Last year, we really had no idea what to expect, but this year, we want to double that number,” Garrett said.
“We are focusing on bringing in more sponsors in 2016 and really aligning ourselves with people in the community who care about saving trees as much as we do,” echoed Nappy.
The ambitious goals of Tree Fest, Solar Impact, Swamp Head and the ACT are in sync with other local organizations working to preserve the natural beauty of our county. Gina Hawkins, the executive director of Keep Alachua County Beautiful, said she thinks positively of Tree Fest’s mission.
“Tree Fest’s goal of planting more trees is aligned with Keep Alachua County Beautiful’s belief that greening and beautification play an important role in creating vibrant communities,” said Hawkins.