As autumn flies by, and trees across the country shift from summery greens to flamboyant shades of red and gold, it’s easy to remember why we love trees.

And while trees certainly contribute colour and beauty to our lives, this vibrant season is a good time to reflect on some of the reasons why we need trees too.

The ways in which trees help us, and the planet, are countless: they clean the air, provide food and medicine, protect the soil, shelter wildlife, reduce noise pollution, improve our mental health, and much, much more.

No one knows this better than Jason Kerr, an ecosystem management program technologist at Fleming College’s Frost Campus in Lindsay, Ontario, which received a Greening Canada’s School Grounds grant from Tree Canada in 2018.

“I don’t think the importance of trees can be overstated,” said Kerr. “Without trees we’d be really in trouble, particularly in urban environments.”

Fleming’s 2018 grant helped the college plant a selection of at-risk trees in their arboretum, which was planted in the 1960s and revived in 2017.

They planted 20 unique trees, including (but not limited to!): butternut trees, which are threatened by a wide-spread fungus; Kentucky coffeetrees, an uncommon tree north of the border; and small, striking dwarf hackberry trees that usually grow no more than four metres tall.

The trees have provided a unique greenspace for the Kawartha Lakes region community to enjoy. Kerr is a big believer in the health benefits of added greenspace, and pointed out that more trees can help prevent “nature deficit disorder” (a theory that a lack of nature can cause negative health and behaviour effects), reduce stress, and improve air quality, which is especially important for the region’s aging population.

“Any time we can contribute to improving air quality is a good thing,” he said.

Students and faculty at Fleming will also enjoy the bountiful research opportunities the new trees provide. Before, they would have had to travel to see some of these species, but now they’ll be able to study them up-close and personal. Their research will focus on climate change, seed preservation, and sustainability.

On the other side of the country, just north of Chetwynd in northern British Columbia, there’s another community reaping the rewards of a Tree Canada grant, this one a little more literally. The Boreal Centre for Sustainability received an Edible Trees grant earlier this year, and since then they’ve planted over 800 fruit-bearing trees and shrubs between their community orchard and research site.

They planted haskap plants with their blue, sweet-tart berries; plenty of brambly, juicy raspberries; and a couple hundred seabuckthorn, which are rich in antioxidants and other health benefits.

Reg Whiten, the agrologist, planner, and director of The Boreal Centre, said the benefits are wide-ranging.

“Especially with the pandemic, it totally supports the general call for and promotion of community food security,” said Whiten. “It will take a while for the plants to establish, but it will have a long-lasting legacy for community use and education.”

Both the arboretum and the orchard have specific goals—to research at-risk trees or provide local food—with much broader implications for their communities. Both offer ample opportunities for the public to come exercise, relax, and learn about the trees and their benefits.

The best part is any community can do what they’re doing! Whether you live somewhere that could use more shade, is experiencing soil erosion, or needs to rehabilitate developed land: trees can help solve those problems.

And it doesn’t have to mean a huge investment of time or money right away. The key to introducing more trees, and seeing the benefits, is to start somewhere, anywhere, according to Whiten.

“It’s about building critical mass: start small but start focused,” he said.

And this starting small can create large and long-lasting benefits for communities and all who live in them. Whether it’s a few trees or an urban forest, Tree Canada’s Community Tree Grants can bring the green to your communities.