1. What is Plant With Purpose and how long have you been in operation?
Plant With Purpose, formerly known as Floresta USA, was founded in 1984 by Tom Woodard to address deforestation and environmental degradation in the tropics. While working in the Dominican Republic with a Christian relief organization, Tom and his colleagues realized that the problems requiring food aid were not being solved, and were even worsening. Research indicated that deforestation and the resultant loss of soil fertility were primary causes. Plant With Purpose was developed to meet the environmental, economic, and spiritual needs of the rural people of the Dominican Republic. Since then, Plant With Purpose has continued the vision of its founders and has expanded to work in six countries.
2. Where do you work?
We currently work in 250 communities in Haiti, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Tanzania, Burundi, and Thailand. We are continually expanding our work into more communities, and we are currently exploring working in several additional countries including Ethiopia, Kenya, and Guatemala.
3. How do you decide where to work?
Deforestation is a serious problem in many countries around the world. Plant With Purpose uses a matrix of needs to ascertain where we can be most effective. These needs include the rate and extent of deforestation, governmental corruption, and the percentage of people living on less than one dollar per day.
We focus our efforts on places where extreme poverty in the region is caused or exacerbated by environmental devastation. This is where our programs and expertise can most effectively bring about lasting transformation.
4. How often do you visit the countries where you work?
In each country that we work in, there is a full-time, in-country staff. All of our staff are native to their respective countries. It is important to know that most of the expertise comes from the full-time staff in the countries where we work. Our U.S.-based staff do, however, travel to each country periodically throughout the year to help set goals and budgets, evaluate progress, and ensure the empowerment of our local staff.
5. Why do you plant trees?
Whenever we begin work in a new community, we always include planting trees because it is one of the most effective components of sustainable rural development. Although seemingly simple, planting trees is one of the most important things we do. By restoring productivity to the land, planting trees gives the rural poor a sustainable means to provide for themselves. Farmers are able to grow more crops. More crops mean they can feed their families and have extra to sell in town. As their incomes start to grow, farmers are able to invest in their household condition and send their children to school. Their families enjoy better nutrition and better health.
Trees provide many benefits to both land and people, but one of their most vital roles is protecting our water supply. Without trees, water resources vanish. More than one billion people around the world lack access to clean water, and we are able to rectify this situation simply by planting trees. Tree roots act as a sponge, allowing water to soak into the ground and springs, rivers and streams begin to flow. They also act as a filter, purifying the water we drink. They improve soil quality, and therefore the productivity of the land. They also protect against erosion, landslides and flash flooding, and are a critical part of the revolutionary style of agriculture that we teach in the communities we work with.
6. Do you plant native trees?
Wherever possible. In the Dominican Republic, where the soil is often too degraded to plant native trees, we plant fast-growing trees that can help farmers to quickly realize income. These are grown to provide wood products that would otherwise come from the native forest. We also plant a variety of native trees, including mahogany. Elsewhere we plant native pine, oak, cedar and other trees indigenous to the region we are working.
7. Is planting trees all you do?
No, planting trees is just one part of an integrated program of sustainable development. Tree planting is a high priority because it is the simplest form of sustainable development there is, restoring productivity to the land, and giving the rural poor a sustainable means to provide for themselves. Restoring the natural environment also influences the quality of life in a variety of ways—providing clean water, for example.
There are many other things we do besides plant trees. For example, we provide small business loans or “microcredit" to the farmers we work with. Through microcredit, we help farmers start other businesses so that they can decrease their dependence on the land and the community as a whole can diversify its economy. Over the years, we have financed dozens of businesses from mechanic shops and bakeries to beauty shops and tailors.
As our focus shifts from the sustainable development of families to the sustainable development of entire villages, the community takes over and Plant With Purpose takes on more of an advisory role. This is where things really get exciting as families start to work together to improve local infrastructure, and invest in and protect the natural resources of their community. Our greatest reward is a community that doesn’t need us anymore.
Since 1984, we have helped more than 48,000 people in some 250 villages lift themselves out of poverty. We have transformed tens of thousands of lives, empowering communities to take charge of and solve their own problems. And it all starts with planting trees.
8. Why do you focus so much on agriculture?
Most of the people we work with make their entire living from what they can grow in their fields. Their farms and fields are the center of their lives. We can often help them to double or triple their yields by implementing a few simple techniques. We teach them sustainable agriculture techniques because the farming style they often use depletes the land, leading to greater poverty and forced migration.
9. Do you practice organic agriculture?
Yes, as much as we can. We discourage the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and teach successful, organic ways to avoid the use of harmful chemicals.
10. Where does your support come from?
About three-quarters of our financial support comes from individuals and churches. The remainder comes from grant-making foundations.
11. Is my gift tax-deductible?
Yes! Plant With Purpose will send you a tax receipt once your transaction has been processed. If you have any questions, please contact us.
12. What do governments think of you?
Local Plant With Purpose staff work hard to develop constructive relationships with local and national governments. In fact, we have received grants for our work from the Mexican, Dominican and U.S. governments.
13. Do you work with AIDS victims?
Yes, especially in our African programs, many communities have been deeply affected by AIDS. Through improved nutrition and economic opportunity, we improve the health of those living with AIDS and also give hope for a better life to the many AIDS orphans who live in these villages.
14. How do you measure progress?
Progress is measured on a quarterly basis from quantitative data collected in the field by local staff. Metrics are activity based and include number of trees planted, amount of soil conservation completed, number of communities, amount of savings, etc. On a 3 year basis impact is measured through socioeconomic metrics such as income per family, crop yields, environmental degradation/restoration indicators, family health, and community well-being.