April 29, 2022 marked the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day, a holiday to spread the message of the value of trees and to advocate for individuals and civic groups to plant more of them.
In 1872, as pioneers began moving into the Nebraska Territory, the lack of trees was felt deeply. Not only did the new residents miss the trees they left behind, they were also left without the trees they needed as windbreaks to keep soil in place, for fuel and building materials, and for shade from the hot sun. Nebraska newspaper editor, J. Sterling Morton, had an enthusiasm for trees and proposed a tree planting holiday at a meeting of the State Board of Agriculture.
It was estimated that more than one million trees were planted in Nebraska on the first Arbor Day. By 1920, more than 45 states and territories were celebrating Arbor Day. Today, Arbor Day is celebrated in all 50 states and in communities around the globe as people gather every year to celebrate trees and plant for a greener tomorrow.
The spirit of replenishing one of the Earth’s most valuable resources continues in the hearts, minds, and actions of some local tree-planting experts. Kim Shea, owner of Freeman Nursery in Beaverton has been growing, caring for, selling, and planting trees since her dad, the late Don Freeman, started the business in 1965. Kim doesn’t remember a time when life didn’t include all things green.
“I was three years old when my parents bought the nursery from Herb and Odie Peterson. Dad had worked for them as their young hired hand. That job turned into a lifelong career and has left behind a legacy four generations deep,” says Kim. “Our grandson, Gibson Longstreth, has already shown an interest in working at my side and I know his great-grandfather is looking down upon him and would be extremely proud of both his work ethic and the passion he is developing for trees.”
The education component is an important one for Kim. Although the nursery is devoted to growing many species of trees, evergreens, and shrubs, she says the most important thing they are growing are “future tree huggers.”
“It is not enough for our generation to understand the critical importance trees have for our earth and all earthly life,” Kim said. “Trees help us breathe. They protect us. They provide warmth and shelter. They protect, house, and feed wildlife. They preserve soil and water, and improve the quality of the air. And they make the world a more beautiful place in which to live. It is important that we know these things, but it is even more important that we make sure that future generations know these things.”
A college instructor for 10 years, Kim has taught hundreds of students in the classrooms of Mid Michigan College. Today, her classrooms look more like greenhouses and tree lots. Kim says “Our customers come to us because they value the expertise that the longevity of a family-owned business can provide. Every sale is an opportunity to share that expertise. To share. To teach. We grow. We know,” adds Kim.
Freeman Nursery has many examples of customers who have relied on their expertise for decades. One of those customers is Bob McCaan of Hope. Bob stopped by the nursery on Arbor Day and as Kim helped him load his apple trees onto his trailer, she introduced herself. Bob said “Oh, I’ve met you before.”
He went on to say he was at the nursery in 1968 (when Kim was six years old) when he bought dozens of poplars from Don Freeman and he remembered her helping as they loaded the little potted trees onto his flatbed truck. The memory sparked a conversation about Don and they discovered that he and Bob were born only a week apart. Bob will be 80 next month, one week after Don would have also turned 80.
“We so greatly value our life-long customers,” Kim said. “However, we know that the future of a tree-covered world lies in the hands of the next generation.” This is why Kim believes in educating those who will take over where the older generations leave off.
Some of those future “tree-huggers” attend the Beaverton Co-op pre-school who visited Freeman Nursery for a field trip on Thursday, May 5, 2022. The field trip included touring the tree lot and greenhouses, hands-on care and watering plants, learning about deciduous and evergreen plants, a hayride through the fields where young trees grow, and potting up a petunia to take home for Mother’s Day.
Kim said she was very impressed by the three to four year olds’ sincere interest in learning about trees. “They know that we need trees and trees need us,” added Kim. “When they were asked what trees need to survive, together, we arrived at the answers: sun, water, nutrients, and a little love. That proves that trees aren’t that different from all of us.”
Teaching kids the value of growing things, even a petunia in a small plastic cup, also helps them grow. A parent of one of the field trip students, Katie Mercer had this to say about the experience, “I feel so grateful to live in a community with such a committed nursery. Our kids had the very best experience on their field trip and in all my times chaperoning, this may have been the tippy top! Kim went above and beyond to teach, engage, and interact with the kids, and the beauty was really in the detail of her planning. I can only hope my youngest child gets the same experience when he is of school age.”
Freeman Nursery is now open. Stop by Monday through Saturday between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. and on Sunday from 12-4 p.m. Visit them at freemannursery.com or call 989-435-7953 for any more information.