Friday, July 12, 2024

A visit to Guadalajara’s Bosque Urbano, Latin America’s largest tree farm

Bosque Urbano is the name of a huge plant nursery or vivero situated at the northwestern corner of Guadalajara and responsible for the planting of thousands of trees per week, all around the city.

Curiously, the tree-planting project was born thanks to an infamous wildfire which raged for three days in 2005, affecting 10,000 hectares of the Primavera Forest, which lies directly west of the city and is popularly known as “the lung of Guadalajara.”

The disaster spurred an organization called Extra to get involved in tree planting which, in turn, brought to their attention the fact that Guadalajara falls pitifully short of being a “green city,” meaning an urban area with three trees for every inhabitant. Thus was born Extra’s Bosque Urbano project in 2007.

The name Extra is short for ex trabajadores or ex-workers in the media, and the group was originally formed to support and assist retired journalists as well as radio and television staff. Of course, the words “Extra! Extra!” still remind both English and Spanish speakers of the paperboy on the corner announcing the latest news. Today Extra A.C. has approximately 1,000 members.

To learn all about this Extra project, I went to the office of Bosque Urbano’s director, Karina Aguilar, located beneath a grove of the tallest casuarina trees I’ve ever seen anywhere.

“We would like to turn Guadalajara into an urban forest,” she told me, “but we are realistic, so our first goal is simply to get one tree planted for every inhabitant of the city. So far, over the last 10 years, we have given away two million trees, but greater Guadalajara has a population of about five million, so we still have a way to go.

“To get people involved in this project we developed the idea of adopting a tree, just as you might adopt a child. So, first we help you pick the tree by providing you with technical information: this tree needs lots of sunshine and is suitable for planting along sidewalks, that one is ideal for a small patio, this other can be grown in a pot but it needs a lot of water.

“Once someone has chosen a tree, we ask them for data about themselves and where they will plant it. Why? Because we want to follow the story of this tree, to make sure it is cared for and thrives. Nobody else in the world does this and that is why our ‘tree survival rate’ is unusually high!

“So the tree you get from us has a QR code on it, which means your tree is unique and it is linked with your name and we can follow its history. In fact, every week we do a follow-up on 300 trees which we gave away.”

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, a well-planned and well-managed green city will positively affect the local climate, mitigate the risk of disasters, improve people’s livelihoods and actually reduce poverty.

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Here are just a few of the numerous benefits of urban trees:

  • Two mature trees can provide 260 kilograms of oxygen, enough for a family of four.
  • Trees can provide food, such as fruits, nuts and leaves, benefiting both people and animals.
  • They promote biodiversity in the city by offering a habitat for plants and animals.
  • They improve air quality by absorbing up to 150 kilograms of CO2 per year.
  • Strategically placed trees can help cool the air between 2 and 8 C.
  • Large trees filter urban pollutants, trapping fine particles on their leaves and bark.
  • Correctly placed trees can reduce the need for air conditioning by 30%.
  • Living among trees improves physical and mental health by decreasing high blood pressure.
  • Trees prevent floods. A pine tree can intercept over 15,000 liters of water per year.
  • Urban landscapes with trees can increase property value by up to 20%.

It is, therefore, claimed that trees provide benefits worth many times more than the investment made in planting and caring for them.

Bosque Urbano will give two free trees to anyone who asks for them, no matter where they are from. But that’s not all they do. Besides planting and donating trees, they also hold workshops on a wide variety of subjects such urban gardens, the living pharmacy, sprouts, hydroponics and natural cosmetics, to name a few.

How is it that Latin America’s biggest tree farm is located within the bounds of a city? Where do they get the water to care for all those trees? Well, Bosque Urbano just happens to be located at the edge of Guadalajara’s beautiful Colomos Park, famed for its perennial springs. Much of the city’s water supply, in fact, comes from these very lush woods via kilometers of underground aqueducts or qanats constructed in the early 1700s, using technology developed in ancient Persia.

Says Karina Aguilar: “We distribute 5,000 trees a week here, slowly moving toward our goal of one tree per person in Guadalajara. That is still far from the worldwide goal of three trees per person, but it’s a beginning. Come see us and give one of our trees a home!”

If you find yourself in Guadalajara you may want to visit Bosque Urbano just to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and stroll along the rustic trails that crisscross the grounds. Afterwards, you can take home up to two trees, but you must bring along with you a copy of a comprobante de domicilio (proof of where you live), such as a telephone bill or voting card. This information is requested so the staff can locate you sometime in the future to see how your trees are doing. Yes, they consider you “a foster parent” of those trees you adopted, and they are worried about their welfare!

Bosque Urbano is located at Avenida Patria 1000 in Guadalajara and you’ll find information on their hours and how to get there by visiting their website or by calling 333 123 1647.

The writer has lived near Guadalajara, Jalisco, for more than 30 years and is the author of A Guide to West Mexico’s Guachimontones and Surrounding Area and co-author of Outdoors in Western Mexico. More of his writing can be found on his website.

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