City Climate Corner

Savannah GA: Trees - Jobs - Climate

Episode Summary

In 2018, Savannah received a grant to create an urban tree nursery to grow their tree canopy, mitigate the increasing impacts of climate related flooding, do workforce development, and engage the community. We interview Savannah's Director of Sustainability Nick Deffley, University of Georgia Marine Extension's Coastal Resilience Specialist Jill Gambill, and program apprentice and now owner and operator of Corinthian Gardens, Robert Hartwell. We learn how the program has gone and the life changing impacts it has had.

Episode Notes

In 2018, Savannah received a grant to create an urban tree nursery to grow their tree canopy, mitigate the increasing impacts of climate related flooding, do workforce development, and engage the community. We interview Savannah's Director of Sustainability Nick Deffley, University of Georgia Marine Extension's Coastal Resilience Specialist Jill Gambill, and program apprentice and now owner and operator of Corinthian Gardens, Robert Hartwell. We learn how the program has gone and the life changing impacts it has had.


Episode Transcription


Abby Finis  00:02

Cities produce more than sixty percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Big cities get a lot of attention, but most household emissions in the US actually come from communities outside urban cores, making them critical players in climate mitigation and climate justice. City Climate Corner explores how these small- and mid-sized cities are tackling climate change and moving toward an equitable and sustainable future.

Abby Finis  00:21

I'm Abby Finis.

Larry Kraft  00:23

And I'm Larry Kraft. We're co-hosts for City Climate Corner.

Larry Kraft  00:29

Hey Abby!

Abby Finis  00:30

Hey Larry! Did you take a look at the IPCC report that just came out a couple weeks ago?

Larry Kraft  00:37

Unfortunately, yes.

Abby Finis  00:39

Lots of good news in there, right?

Larry Kraft  00:43

Not so much.

Abby Finis  00:44

Not so much. It's a little bit of a kick in the pants, right? We have less time to cut emissions a lot faster. And, it seems like we're, I think we knew this, but hopefully it's a wake up call to people who don't pay quite as much attention. We're in it. We're going to continue to feel the effects of climate change get worse. And, it's been a summer of reckoning, I think, with the number of floods that have happened, the drought that's gone on, and the wildfire all on top of this pandemic. It's a dire report.

Larry Kraft  01:26

Yeah, I agree. After reading it and the coverage of it, I immediately went to alright, what else can we do where I live to accelerate both mitigation and adaptation efforts?

Abby Finis  01:40

Yeah, what does that look like in St. Louis Park for accelerating adaptation? Because, your Climate Action Plan focuses primarily on mitigation. How would you make that pivot, or not even a pivot, but kind of doable?

Larry Kraft  01:57

The interesting thing is - some of its already started. We had, a few years ago, flooding in a place that had never happened before. We had to spend about a half million dollars to put in a new pumping station. I think for us, it's taking a longer view of infrastructure. There's a bunch of developments happening around St. Louis Park because of light rail stations that are coming in. As those developments are happening, making sure we're looking at the most updated floodplain information and then asking questions about, "What happens if this gets blown away?" So I think it's in an evening to take a longer view of what's going to happen as these once in 100, once in 500, once in 1000 year, events happen much more frequently,

Abby Finis  02:41

Right? And, flash flooding is going to be a bigger thing. We're somewhat accustomed to rivers flooding and coastal flooding, but as we see increased flooding in areas that don't typically flood, in part that's due to the built world and adding more impervious surface, and it's also in combination with these heavier rain events,there's a lot of work to be done. Today we're going to chat with some folks in Savannah, Georgia who have been thinking about this, it's a coastal city, and they are looking at different approaches for how they can manage some of the flooding that they see there.

Larry Kraft  03:19

Using a really cool new technology. 

Abby Finis  03:22

Yeah, trees! Who would have thought?! I'm really excited for this episode. It turns out Nick Deffley there and I went to grad school together. It was kind of fun to reconnect and hear all the really good work that he and community members are doing there. We're going to talk to Nick, Robert Hartwell, and Jill Gambill about what's going on in Savannah.

Larry Kraft  03:44

Ready to listen?

Abby Finis  03:45

Let's do it!

Start of interview

Abby Finis  03:50

Today we are visiting the city of Savannah, Georgia. We are joined by Nick Deffley, Robert Hartwell, and Jill Gambill. Could you each introduce yourself and tell us what you do? We'll start with Nick.

Nick Deffley  04:00

My name is Nick Deffley and I am the Director of Sustainability for the City of Savannah, Georgia.

Abby Finis  04:05

And Robert!

Robert Hartwell  04:06

My name is Robert Hartwell. I was apprentice in the Green Nursery Program and I am the owner and operator of Corinthian Gardens.

Abby Finis  04:13

And Jill.

Jill Gambill  04:15

Hi, I'm a Coastal Resilience Specialist for the University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

Abby Finis  04:21

Great! Welcome to you all. Thanks for joining us.

Savannah background and flooding history

Larry Kraft  04:23

So Savannah is a coastal city in Georgia. Robert, maybe can you give us a sense for the city, what it's like to live there, and what do you like about it?

Robert Hartwell  04:34

Savannah has got its own vibe, like a home vibe. I've started working another part time job downtown and the tourists out there man they love it. Savannah's got its own lives and the waters right there and the river is right there and the beach is right here. And, the historical background Savannah has and the all the nature it has, Savannah's alive, it's got its own life. You're never going to forget about it. When you see it, it's something that sticks with you.

Larry Kraft  05:03

Jill, can you tell us more about your work as a Coastal Resilience Specialist? What are the major climate hazards Savannah is facing and what are some adaptation strategies you want to see?

Jill Gambill  05:18

Being right on the water, Savannah has challenges with flooding and sea level rise is exacerbating those issues. In the past two years, Savannah has had minor flooding eighty times. We've just seen an incredible increase in day to day flooding at high tide. This has also exacerbated issues with the stormwater system because, of course, when you have rain on top of really high tides, the stormwater system can't drain properly. We're seeing more damages in property and just nuisances, like roads being flooded, and having difficulty getting to work and getting to school. I work with communities throughout the Georgia coast in planning for sea level rise and trying to take that long term view of what can we do today to make life better and more resilient in the future?

Larry Kraft  06:12

So you said 80 times over the past two years? Eight-zero? 

Jill Gambill  06:15


Larry Kraft  06:16

That's more than once every two weeks. That's crazy!

Abby Finis  06:20

What is minor flooding?

Nick Deffley  06:22

Minor flooding means we have an afternoon rain storm, which seems to happen almost every afternoon right now, around 4:30-5 o'clock. It happens so quickly, at least this is one of the examples, it happened so quickly that our streets just - it's almost like a little flash flood, the stormwater system is kind of beyond capacity. The streets just fill up. Traffic is hard to get from one point to the next and we've got maybe six to eight inches to a foot of water for a brief amount of time, right in the street in an intersection, then it's gone again, but that happens all the time.

Abby Finis  06:59

So just kind of quick bursts of flash flooding.

Nick Deffley  07:01

Yeah, from that standpoint. And then if the tide is especially high, and the water table then is also a little higher, that only means that much less water can absorb into the ground.

Jill Gambill  07:12

NOAA has tide gauges throughout the US Coast and they designate thresholds for minor flooding. The tide gauge right in Savannah, at Fort Pulaski National Monument, has reached that threshold eighty times throughout 2019 and 2020. This is just a massive increase over previous years.

Larry Kraft  07:34

How do you start to adapt to that?

Jill Gambill  07:36

Some communities along the Georgia coast are elevating homes, renourishing their beach, they are retrofitting their stormwater systems, putting tide gates on so that the high tides can't flow backwards through the system and flow up into yards and streets, and elevating roads is also being discussed. Many of the measures that it takes to adapt to sea level rise are very expensive. Another big effort is just looking for funding and trying to find mechanisms to pay for different ways of making their infrastructure more resilient.

Larry Kraft  08:12

You all are facing right now a tropical storm coming your way or around, aren't you?

Nick Deffley  08:20

Yeah, and you know, to be honest, I kind of lose track sometimes. We just had Fred come through, I believe going down the alphabet the next one was right behind, and so that' you know?

Robert Hartwell  08:29

I don't know the name of it. 

Jill Gambill  08:31


Nick Deffley  08:32

What is it? 

Jill Gambill  08:33


Nick Deffley  08:34

Grace? Probably, I mean, down here it's going to be raining for the next two weeks. 

Robert Hartwell  08:39

Yes that's a big storm. 

Nick Deffley  08:40

So we just know, yeah, but back to back tropical storms coming up through here and it's just kind of constantly.

Savannah’s Sustainability Office

Abby Finis  08:48

Well, that juxtaposition too. We haven't had rain all summer. We're drying out up here. Nick, can you tell us a little bit about your role at the City and what your job is?

Nick Deffley  08:59

As the Sustainability Director, and the office that we have here at the City, we focus on a lot of operational pieces for the City of Savannah. We have our own water treatment facility, we have our own sanitation office and landfill, obviously we manage a lot of streets, and we have a lot of facilities and provide a lot of public services. We act really as a consultant to other internal offices and departments around helping make transportation more accessible for different modes of transportation and safe, from bikes and pedestrians through, down here horse carriages, the little trolleys, and automobile. We also work a lot on waste and materials management and how to encourage the public to upcycle more, recycle more, and throw away less. We also look at water resource issues. I mean, not just drinking water, but really because we are low lying coastal community, people's direct relationship with our coastal resources and how their actions here on the streets can impact our waterways. 

Nick Deffley  10:08

And then, of course, a lot of energy work. We focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy and pushing those both forward. But, a lot of the work we really do is also in the community. We do a lot of community outreach. We focus a lot with really our frontline communities. Even more directly, those who are maybe more impacted by flooding, more impacted by the impacts of climate change that are experiencing more negative health impacts associated with the impacts of climate change, extreme heat, and air pollution. Working on the real social justice and racial equity side, we work really across the board with a lot of community partners. But, that access to food, healthy food, access to safe and reliable transportation, access to clean energy, and energy efficiency, all those things really come into play for our work.

Abby Finis  10:59

And that's primarily out of the Sustainability Office, right?

Nick Deffley  11:04

Yep, correct. There are other departments that also focus on it. But, yeah.

Abby Finis  11:07

Okay. Are you currently the only staff in the Sustainability Office?

Nick Deffley  11:11

I am proud to say I am not the only one in the Sustainability Office. We now are an office of two. So that just happened like eleven days ago.

Abby Finis  11:20


Nick Deffley  11:20

Yep, doubled our capacity.

Urban Tree Nursery Program

Abby Finis  11:22

We really wanted to talk to you all about this program that we came across, that you piloted over the last couple of years, the Tree Nursery Program. Maybe Nick, we will start with you, if you could give us an overview of what that program is, what its goals were, and what that program is intended to do.

Nick Deffley  11:41

A few years ago, we started this grant application really for this project called Green Infrastructure to Green Jobs. And actually, Jill was a very strong partner in preparing that grant application with Georgia Sea Grant and the Marine Extension at UGA. We applied to a grant that was funded by the Kendeda fund and then to the Southeast Sustainable Communities Fund. That's kind of a southeastern regional grant opportunity. It was a two year grant that supported really sustainable and equitable communities. And, that was a primary focus. 

Nick Deffley  12:15

It had a few key components to it and goals that we were supposed to achieve in the project. One of them was mitigating or adapting to climate change through either sustainable energy or water initiatives, and we chose water initiatives. They also wanted us to focus on fostering equity and inclusiveness in the project, racial and social equity, and then leveraging community partnerships and other community organizations throughout the community. And then also, hopefully, as a byproduct of the project, strengthening government priorities and policies and perhaps finding ways to improve existing policies. Then the last part is just showing that we could do this somewhere else, that some other city could pick it up, so scalability to the whole program. 

Nick Deffley  13:01

Ultimately, we were successful on that grant application and received a grant for about $230,000 to fund this project, which was essentially focused on growing our urban tree canopy and urban forest. To help with that kind of stormwater absorption, green infrastructure practice, letting stormwater be absorbed on site. But, it was also to help enhance workforce skills, because we knew that our rising workforce really did not have a lot of experience and technical expertise in our arboriculture, quality landscape management, and native tree species and plant species and vegetation. 

Nick Deffley  13:39

But, it was also engaging the community in the importance of trees, the ecosystem values of trees, that they are cooling, that they help clean the air, and that they help absorb stormwater. And ultimately, then promoting green infrastructure practices, which, honestly down here in Savannah, even though we're low lying, and we've got a lot of water around, that's not been something that has been a major, major focus here. Kind of focusing on all of those areas to build up and strengthen our tree canopy, which even though Savannah is a Tree City, USA we are known for our urban forest, we also know it's decreasing due to development and increased storms. So, trying to shore that up, strengthen it, and teach the community about it.

Abby Finis  14:23

Jill if you could shed some light on what part you played in this project and why are trees so important to a community's resilience? I think, Nick, you touched on a number of points, but maybe if we could expand on that a little bit.

Jill Gambill  14:35

Coming up with the idea was a really collaborative project. Nick's office had actually done a study of the power of using trees to help absorb flooding and the possibility of the City growing their own trees. Just the economic cost-benefit of that versus buying them at a larger size. I came into it, I guess, interested in the co-benefit as we're developing strategies for sea level rise, thinking about how can we find the solutions that not only fix the flooding issue, but also fix economic challenges or social challenges in the community that have these co-benefits? This was a project where we tried to bring those things together the triple bottom line. 

Jill Gambill  15:21

We looked at, you know, workforce development and we looked at building this environmental capacity to absorb the water. Also, creating more community involvement and in the solutions around flooding, trees are fantastic because they not only absorb more water than grass, they also provide shade, they can help with urban heat island effect, and they have great public health benefits. There's all of these co-benefits that go along with trees that we were interested in trying to bring that into these neighborhoods that didn't have very much tree cover. And, we're dealing with severe flooding. They had just gone through several hurricanes back to back in Savannah, I believe they had evacuated three out of the past four years, as we were working through this project; trying to work with the community on the issues that they were seeing firsthand as the project was unfolding.

Larry Kraft  16:17

You said, grow your own trees versus buying larger ones. Can you just talk a little bit about that? I know in my community, we've been investigating a tree planting program and one of the things I hear back from the arborist is, you want to make sure they go in a little bit older than younger so that they're more resilient, and are able to survive. So, I'm really interested in this concept of growing your own trees.

Nick Deffley  16:43

You know, the City of Savannah, we have our own Park and Tree Department, when they plant trees, they want them as you say, kind of at a certain size minimum certain size of two to three inch caliper trees. Those are not inexpensive to purchase either. The idea that we had was as part of this grant and part of the funding, was to say, "Okay, we are going to buy very young trees in three to five gallon pots. We're going to raise those on drip irrigation systems over a certain number of years until they mature to the point that they could be planted at a larger size, throughout not just public property and public right away on our tree lawns, but also in private property that's low lying." 

Nick Deffley  17:23

Another key component of this was on our repetitively flooded form of residential properties. Down here in Savannah along the coast, we call those FEMA lots. I don't know if that's a technical term, but it's essentially those former residential properties had homes on them that were repetitively flooded over time. FEMA came in with an agreement with those property owners, bought out those properties, level bones, and then deeded those properties over to the City in perpetuity, essentially, to maintain over time with pretty specific building restrictions on them. You can't put down any permanent structures and you cannot put down any impervious surfaces. So, you can make a park out of them, you could do pervious pavement, a water feature or a rain garden, or something like that. But, what we wanted to do is start planting a lot of these trees as we grew them on these image properties, because they're already there to absorb stormwater, we wanted to really increase their capacity to do that in some of these low line areas. 

Nick Deffley  18:25

That whole concept, built from this project on the grant application that we would buy these trees at a lower cost, younger, raise them up for a few years on drip irrigation systems, and then, as they got to maturity, which now you know, they're in 15 gallon pots, planting those mature trees out of these 15 gallon pots all throughout the City in low lying areas, that's the broader intent. I will add too that they are all native species of trees for down here and they're all either water and/or water and salt water tolerant. In the anticipation of increased flooding and sea level rise, some of these trees, even if we plant them closer to a flood prone area, are going to be resilient in that space. 

Larry Kraft  19:07

Wow, okay. Does that turn out to be more cost effective way of growing lots of trees than buying them bigger?

Nick Deffley  19:13

I would say yes because right now we've got these trees that are, you know, we might have spent between twenty and forty-five to fifty bucks a tree, and fifty bucks was kind of more expensive young trees. The value on these trees now is probably two hundred to three hundred dollars each. All we did is, you know we're watering them, and we do some care on them, but we've got 550 trees on three different properties in and around Savannah. They're doing beautifully and these pots. And, now the other piece, I mentioned the equity component. We identified lower income neighborhoods where we could start to do these sites and also work with community members to not only do paid apprenticeships towards helping building out these tree nurseries, raising these trees, and learning about arboriculture, but also the community members and the kids just kind of getting involved in the whole interest of these tree nurseries being a part of them, really guiding our projects along the way.

Robert’s experience as an apprentice

Larry Kraft  20:10

As you've mentioned, beyond growing and planting trees, there is a job training aspect of the program. Robert, can we bring you in here now? Can you share your experience? I gather you've been an arborist apprentice in this so I'd love to hear about your experience with the program.

Robert Hartwell  20:28

It's just been life changing. These two great guys got the grant, hired a group of thirty people. We were all from different backgrounds, race, age, and different neighborhoods, just right here locally in Savannah. And it was just life changing. I'm just a apprentice and I took it to just catapult me further. It was something that I love doing and then I had Mr. Nick to push me and I learned a lot from it. 

Robert Hartwell  20:57

To this day I'm very involved in my community. I work in a lot of our neighbor's yards just right here on the east side of Savannah. I do a lot of work. I've done a lot of gardens, flowerbeds, replanting trees, I've given trees away, me and Mr. Nick given trees away. One of the coolest projects we did is a place that was flooded in a neighborhood, Hurricane Matthew, and it was filled with water. It was like two acres we cleared out, maybe one and a half. It was clear. It was filled. But, it was still flooding. We went out there and cleared it out and we found one cypress tree, which likes water, which is a native, so Mr. Nick had the City put grass out there. It looks like a park almost. And then, they plant more trees out there and he went out there with the tree foundation. 

Nick Deffley  21:49

Yeah, Savannah Tree Foundation. 

Robert Hartwell  21:49

Another thing about it is the partners the program had. I think it was Victory Gardens, that landscape business, Tree Foundation, Miss Jill, Molly with the kids, paint in the park. It just gravitated a lot of good positive groups. It was life changing for me and a lot of other people.

Larry Kraft  22:13

What kind of stuff did you do with the trees?

Robert Hartwell  22:16

We learned how to...Mr. Nick, he really taught me how to dig a hole.

Robert Hartwell  22:24

Right? Let's see why it is important. It is important. You don't want to plant some stuff in it down. But, the depth of the hole, the water system, the irrigation system, we actually put lines, put stakes in the ground, we lined up the trees, gave them their space, and the higher the tree. We learned how to prune them, how to cut them, thin pruning and natural pruning them, we learned different characteristics of the tree what they like, different names. My favorite thing I'd say is how to prune them and stuff like that. All different trees, lemon trees, grape fruit trees, river oak, I mean, we learned a lot of species and trees, a lot of plants too through the UGA Extension too. We were studying for that. You were getting paid for it and you were getting knowledge of it. And to me, that's everything because you getting education on it and you're getting expenses. It's just a dope bonus, especially when you love something, Just being out there, it was really good. 

Larry Kraft  23:26

One of the things that I've learned from our arborist here in the City I'm in is some things you mentioned, how important it is to plant them properly and then to care for them properly over time, that it's easy to say I'm going to plant a tree but if the tree dies in a few years, what good has it done? 

Robert Hartwell  23:42

That's the hardest part.

Larry Kraft  23:44

So Robert, how has this impacted what your future looks like? What kind of things you're planning on? It sounds like this is a real passion area for you.

Robert Hartwell  23:52

Yeah, and thank you for asking that. The door just keeps getting wider. I ran into someone the other day who went to the UGA Extension and they do irrigation and the whole foundation. Then, I've got experience with Mr. Nick in the program and then I'll do my own line of work. As far as like experience level, it's my second year getting my own little knickknacks. I'm still learning new species and still dealing with more people, community wise, and the love for it. It really grows, it really shows. I feel like I want to go back and I want to go to school, get that UGA Extension. Due to COVID, it slowed everything up and then it just came to a halt. It was just hard getting back, everybody on the same page. I definitely want to go back, get that out of pocket and get that one done, get that checked off my list. Get that extension UGA certification. I know I gotta keep pursuing it because I just don't quite know what's on the other side yet. You know, usually when you know something, you don't really find it interesting and you're not going to walk through that door. But to me, it seems like it's what I'm supposed to be doing so I'm having a time of my life. I just love it.

Future of program

Larry Kraft  25:11

What does the future of the program look like?

Robert Hartwell  25:15

I think this program should be in every state because of how it impact impacts everybody's lives. Because down here in Savannah, a lot of people see nature, you see trees every day, you don't really pay attention to them. But, when the program touched, it kind of like it, beautification, you know, I didn't really know what that meant. I know beautiful mean, beautification, like taking something that it's not really tended to, nobody really cares about the trash and debris, tires and all that and you take that and beautify. It gives people pride and sense of just thinking about others and where you live at. I do think it opened a lot of people's eyes to Savannah, because you already when you come down and you see the trees anyway and then you hear about the program, I think it'll benefit a lot of other states to get back to beautifying and get back to nature. I feel like nowadays that's very important. We got a garden at my house, you know, planting it and eating everything that comes out of the ground. Me and my mom had a garden, some of the kids in my neighborhood, we had a garden, it just gave it back. Take a sense of pride in yourself in your community. And, I just hope it goes around the states, that they go, every state should add one.

Abby Finis  26:36

Yeah, I think that's critical, because we're seeing urban forests decimated in a lot of places and there's a real need for that. Do you all see this program getting a boost? Or I was even thinking, Nick, and you could sell some of these trees. Could you create enough revenue to sustain it? 

Nick Deffley  26:54


Abby Finis  26:55

What's ahead?

Nick Deffley  26:56

That has been part of the conversation is how we do sustain just the funding of this. I am hopeful that the City Council will start to consider that this is something that we can find on a regular basis, especially as we show the cost-benefit to buying these younger trees and raising them for a couple of years. If we start having a real flow and a pipeline of new trees, native species trees that are water and salt water tolerant, that can go into our community, that's great. And, it is saving us money over time. 

Nick Deffley  27:23

I think the other community partners, many of them have been mentioned, but like Savannah Tree Foundation and UGA, they've both leveraged funds to help promote next steps of this project. Jill can tell you about one of those. The last thing I'll say just about these three sites that we have right now, we've invested a lot in them. So, we want to maintain using them. 

Nick Deffley  27:43

As we start planting most of these trees this fall and winter, we're going to have a lot of empty spaces where we need more trees. There's still a little money leftover to start bringing in some new trees, new saplings, and start raising those so that'll help. The Savannah Tree Foundation has found some funding, I believe, to start doing even some like living laboratory space out on these tree nurseries. So bringing classes out and doing pruning education and trying maybe gravel bed raising of trees where they just are planted right into gravel boxes and develop the root ball there. So just trying different ideas out.

Jill Gambill  28:19

One of the things that we were able to do as the pandemic hit was convert our Educational Workforce Development Program into a virtual platform and expand it statewide. We partnered with UGA Extension and UGA Center for Urban Agriculture and we received some funding from the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center to offer trainings and webinars throughout the past year. Some of the companies that are working in landscaping, nurseries, and tree care and tree service companies have been going through that learning how to utilize green infrastructure, how to build their resilience to disasters and extreme weather events. We've also been supporting employees going through the certification that Robert mentioned, the Georgia Certified Landscape Professional Program, which is a very elite, difficult program. It really requires expertise to get that certification. It just shows you how far Roberts has come that he's pursuing that and we're trying to lift up other employees throughout the state to have that same opportunity.


Abby Finis  29:32

This is such a good story and I love the community building aspect of it. I love the job training aspect. I've of course love trees and I just have this image of Savannah in my head, I've never been there, but just a city full of beautiful trees. I appreciate that you all are working so hard to keep that up and restore it. I want to wrap up with what are your biggest highlights from this project for each of you? What's the kind of nugget that you want to take away? Maybe we'll just go in reverse order and start with Jill.

Jill Gambill  30:07

Wow, I think just the diversity of partners. Some of us, we may have very little overlap in our missions, but we were able to come together, work together, and collaborate towards a common goal of just trying to improve the resilience of Savannah. One of my favorite partners is Loop It Up Savannah, that offers after school art programs to Savannah children. Molly Lieberman, the Director of that program was able to engage students in these neighborhoods where the urban tree nurseries were located. They painted pots that are now on display, they were able to have ownership over those sites, learn about the benefits of the trees, and you know, educate their families about them, why they're there, what we're trying to do. Having that sort of diversity of perspectives was just great, and all of us coming together as one.

Abby Finis  31:01


Nick Deffley  31:02

As somebody who works in the sustainability and resilience and climate space all the time and doing all this community engagement and trying to think about your audience and how you get through to them about the importance of some of this work and how it relates to their own lives and the relevance, that's a challenging thing to do. And, I think, I was really blown away within the first couple days. 

Nick Deffley  31:26

These apprentices got about thirty plus hours of classroom training at the beginning, before they ever went out and started doing the work. They were studying through the manual for the Georgia Certified Landscape Professional booklet and all that curriculum. There's a lot of Latin genus and species of all these different vegetation and they went on with some of the UGA partners, they would do a little walkabouts right outside this office building, but they're finding different things on the landscaping, on the trees, and vegetative hedges and all that. They're identifying things. 

Nick Deffley  32:00

These folks came back, most of them have never really spent a lot of time in this field before and this was like the first two or three days, and I remember when we were driving to a field trip site for another classroom training, snd they're like, "Nick, I'm just looking at the world in a whole different way. I'm recognizing the type of vegetation that's out there. It's not just a bunch of green stuff. It's not just a tree. It's also recognizing that oh, you know, tires and litter and all that stuff, that's actually not the native species." Right? There's, there's something else out there. They're noticing it and they're recognizing it in a way sll because they just got a little focused time to understand the benefits of the different trees that they were looking at in the landscaping and the vegetation. And, they were learning the different varieties and looking at the details of it. That just really kind of opened my eyes to a different approach. I mean, it flipped the script for many of them on how they look at the world as they walk around or drive around.

Abby Finis  32:59

I think that having that kind of shift in perspective can be appreciated for so many different aspects. It's great to see here. Robert, you've shared a couple of highlights, they're going to be tough to beat, but what would you put out there as your top highlight?

Robert Hartwell  33:15

I'm ready to beat it. I'm ready to beat it. Because, as I was sitting here, this is my goal from the beginning. And, it goes back to Mr. Larry's question future wise and what you said, little golden nugget. The whole point of me to start a landscaping business was to get it a nursery. And then I was I talked to Mr. Nick and said that we need a tree nursery that has native trees, because I found out we had a shortage on native trees. You get a lot of extra trees from, you know, you got trees from wherever, when you go out and buy trees, but we don't really have native trees, and on top of that, would develop it and all that is shutting down trees. 

Robert Hartwell  33:57

On top of that you can start a business, like you were saying, Miss Abby, you start a business with the tree nursery, give it back to the community, build it with the community, and it can be like you could have a garden out there or the kids on loop it up and come out there. It can be a business but it could also be a benefit to the people at the same time and give back the green infrastructure. So it's like a gold nuggets on top of gold. I mean, it's just a lot. I know it's right, because there's so much good in it. And that's the big goal. I'm from this community. They show a bunch of other young guys, just young people, you know, you can work within your own community and give back to it. It is electrifying. I don't know what to say. That's my goal. If I could take back, to get a business, and build something to the community and the people and give back to nature in everything. That's my main, that's my dream, boom.

Abby Finis  35:06

Yeah, I think you're right. It's those people based, community driven solutions that are going to get us through.

Larry Kraft  35:14

What a great story for us to share. And with that, is there anything else you want to share before we end? 

Robert Hartwell  35:22

Thank you guys. Thank you so much.

Nick Deffley  35:26

Yeah, thank you. I'm just impressed by the interest in this that's continued throughout the last few years. We're really thankful that we had the opportunity with a really flexible funder as well that let us kind of shift our priorities over time to I mean, I think that's pretty key as well. And yeah, everything came together with all these very diverse partners. That was the secret to making that happen. Having all those different groups together, working on the pieces that they could bring to the table.

Advice for others

Larry Kraft  35:56

Any advice for other communities wanting to do something like this?

Nick Deffley  36:00

I would simply, again, hit on that partner piece. We had a workforce development partner, we had the City, we had UGA and Georgia Sea Grant, and the UGA Extension. I mean, there were multiple divisions of UGA that were involved. We had the art group with the kids and painting the pots. We had a great local company that focused on native tree species, a landscape company. I feel like I'm even missing one. I mean, there were so many partners and those actually leveraged more dollars and more resources to extend the project. And none of those things, those in benefits were really anticipated. It was just trying to think broadly about who should be at the table, who could who could lend a hand, and who could participate.

Robert Hartwell  36:47

I got some advice: stick your nose that down and don't give up. That's what I want to say that. And, speaking with you guys already had a fire in me, but just talking with y'all, like he said, it's crazy how people are still asking about it. And then, like talking again with y'all brought back everything. So, I want to thank you all. I'm glad I walked in here and was able to talk to everybody. And thank you all for y'all questions, because it really got my foot, you know, I'm already focused, but I it set a fire. So thank y'all for this opportunity.

Abby Finis  37:24

Yeah, we're glad that worked out because your passion definitely comes through and we feel that.

Abby and Larry debrief

Larry Kraft  37:32

Okay, Abby, what a great conversation. What were your takeaways?

Abby Finis  37:37

Well, overall, I just really, really love this program. I love the passion that it's bringing and how much Robert is able to express that, I think, you know, it really comes through his enjoyment and desire to continue with it and continue learning. I'm a sucker for trees. So any story that's looking to bring back some of these natural spaces and to cities through tree planting and gcreen infrastructure, I just love to see that. And you can see this multitude of benefits, but especially as Robert mentioned, this community building aspect that comes with doing some of the work and the beautification of your community in what it means to start caring about the space that you live in. And, building those relationships with people really resonated with me.

Larry Kraft  38:26

Yeah, where else - you have an age-old technology that not only helps you mitigate climate change, adapt to its impacts, and build community and create a way to help people in pathways to new careers and things like that. Where do you get that? Trees are amazing!

Abby Finis  38:46

They really are and I could wax poetically about trees all day long. But, this is also a story about the people in the community and how this program is bringing people together. Not just building that resilience through adaptation measures of, you know, how do we mitigate for some of the stormwater sequester carbon for trees, but also the social aspect and building social cohesion, knowing your neighbors, and being more prepared for the next time a hurricane comes through or tropical storm or some kind of major event.

Larry Kraft  39:19

Reminds me that there was an earlier episode we did where someone was talking about, I think it was David Takahashi from Boulder, that in Chicago when there were devastating heat waves a bunch of years ago, the communities that weathered them best, were the ones that had strong connections with each other. And, so the social capital and the community building aspect of this program is bound to make Savannah more resilient in many ways that are not maybe easily readily apparent initially.

Abby Finis  39:51

Yeah, having those community ties makes all the difference and responding to any kind of emergency or disaster.

Larry Kraft  39:59

Another thing, maybe more into the nitty gritty of this, but I saw an article a couple weeks ago, I think it was in Bloomberg, about tree planting and how many cities around the globe have made these massive tree planting commitments and done some things, only to have a couple years later, a bunch of the new saplings and things die. What I love about this program is, they're starting with, you know, with small, less expensive trees, but they're growing larger ones before they plant them. And then, because they've created this community that really cares about what's going on with the trees, it's kind of a built in way of making sure that those trees are cared for after they're planted. This is such a great program.

Abby Finis  40:41

Yeah, I love it. It gives people the opportunity to learn more about trees and green infrastructure and their functions and their Latin names, and create a pathway for jobs. Savannah is a city where we think about having a lot of trees and other cities are similar, and there needs to be people who take care of them. So that's one such way and look into adapting to climate change and mitigating for it is that job creation aspect, and getting people on board through that. Having this program where you have the trees at such a young age for a lower cost, and then they increase in value as they get bigger, I think you maintain that equity component and plant trees for free in neighborhoods that need higher tree canopy. But also, you know, are there some economic models that you can look to to generate some revenue for the city to help fund, have a self funding program? I don't know. I think it's an interesting thing to explore how can we sustain this program going forward beyond the grant period? Is it self-sustaining?

Larry Kraft  41:57

I hope they're able to figure that out. It also struck me how great a collaboration this program is across many different groups.

Abby Finis  42:04

Yeah! Having the University of Georgia there, having Climate Resilience Expert who can think through what are some of the strategies that we can try because oftentimes, humans want to harden it right on the water away. But, what if we look back to some of these natural solutions where we allow water to infiltrate and stay in place and not have so much rush away that causes these other infrastructural issues as well as just moving water swiftly and in large volumes that increases flooding chances.

Larry Kraft  42:37


Abby Finis  42:38

So great episode, everybody. Dig in and start planting a whole bunch of trees and having green infrastructure everywhere. It's goingm to make our cities better, improve social cohesion, and make us more resilient to climate change.

Larry Kraft  42:52

What a great technology: trees.

Abby Finis  42:55

Go hug a tree. 

Abby Finis  42:57

We hope you enjoyed this episode of City Climate Corner. If you like what you're hearing, make sure to subscribe and give us a review. If you're able, become a monthly supporter through Patreon. As always, you can find more information on this topic and resources from each episode's guests on our webpage If you have an idea for the show, send us an email at or find us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Larry Kraft  43:21

City Climate Corner is produced by Abby Finis and me, Larry Kraft. Edited by me,. Our Production Assistant is Maggie Morin. Music by ...

Abby Finis  43:29

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. 

Larry Kraft  43:32

Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.