Trees That Feed Foundation is an Illinois-based organization that works with developing regions of the globe to plant food-bearing trees. The organization recognizes that edible trees simply aren’t utilized to their maximum potential; while over 20,000 edible tree species exist, fewer than 20 species provide the majority of food worldwide. Trees That Feed promotes biodiversity while providing nourishment for people, creating jobs, and benefiting the environment. The Foundation has planted the majority of its 24,000 trees in Jamaica, but also works in Haiti, Costa Rica, and Ghana.
Mary and Mike McLaughlin founded the program in 2008 to help combat food insecurity. Mary McLaughlin grew up in Jamaica, where one breadfruit tree in her backyard met her entire family’s carbohydrate needs. She recognized the role that trees can play in feeding a community, and discovered an opportunity to ameliorate the situation of hungry tropical communities. She also realized the crucial function of trees as carbon sequestration sinks and soil conservation resources, meaning they can act to mitigate climate change
The Foundation first focused on planting breadfruit trees in Jamaica and has since expanded to Haiti, Costa Rica, and Ghana. A breadfruit is the size of a soccer ball, and tastes, in fact, like bread. A single breadfruit can satisfy the carbohydrate portion for a family of five, and can be mashed, dried, or used as gluten-free flour. Seedlings are, however, often in short supply, and the fruit is not easily stored for future use. As a result, other tree crops provided by Trees That Feed, such as ackee, moringa, pigeon pea, mango, lychee, pomegranate, and avocado are necessary to supplement a family’s diet.
Mary McLaughin emphasizes how the ecological importance of the Foundation’s work is tied to the economic: “We feel that the more income that people can make out of trees is the more trees that will be planted.” The Foundation is also actively working to foster profitable post-harvest products by helping students at Haiti’s University of the Nouvelle Grand’Anse to produce and market breadfruit flour.
The Foundation’s crops are versatile, and can be grown by small farmers, on field margins, and even in urban spaces. Certain trees can additionally act as a support network for smaller understory plants, such as coffee and legumes.
Seedlings are never genetically engineered or invasive to the local environment. The tree species used require little use of agricultural chemicals. Trees That Feed is working to overcome obstacles relating to seasonal surplus and related crop storage.
Trees That Feed additionally stimulates community and economic development. The foundation has planted 25,00 trees with the hopes of theoretically creating 5,000 jobs in the forms of nurserymen, farmers, vendors, truck drivers, and processors. Mary McLaughlin acknowledges, “this may seem small, on a U.S.A. scale, but there is excellent growth potential.”