Over the last decade, the Illinois-based nonprofit Trees That Feed Foundation (TTFF) has provided more than 175,000 trees to communities in 17 countries to help combat food insecurity.
Mary and Mike McLaughlin founded TTFF in 2008 after realizing the potential of the breadfruit tree to build food security and provide employment opportunities to communities.
“Tree planting has multiple benefits,” explains Mike McLaughlin to Food Tank. “Trees sequester carbon and reduce CO2, a greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere. Beyond that, though, fruit trees give food, shade, and habitat for small animals. Trees protect against soil erosion. And last but not least, trees that produce food boost the economy with local jobs where people need them the most.”
TTFF began by providing the seedlings to families and communities, but have expanded their programs to offer manufacturing equipment, cooking classes, meal programs, and school support to create further economic and educational opportunities for the communities they serve. In Jamaica, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Indonesia, and Tanzania, TTFF provides educational coloring books that teach young students about the benefits of tree planting.
“As the trees grow, so do the students. We’re helping to create a generation of people who value tree planting,” McLaughlin tells Food Tank.
Furthermore, communities can turn breadfruit into a variety of products including flour, which can help provide income stability. TTFF’s cooking programs also help teach young chefs and entrepreneurs how to cook with the versatile crop, the trees provide opportunities for income growth on top of direct food security.
“We’re setting up entire supply chains,” explains McLaughlin, “Because we want local people to become independent. We want to give them help for a few years and then launch them into a world of self-sufficiency.”
“Our main challenge is responding to all the requests we get,” McLaughlin tells Food Tank. “We can’t be everywhere all the time.” To help with program delivery on the ground, TTFF partners with over 50 organizations who work with communities directly to plant trees and facilitate educational programming.
“It’s tremendously gratifying,” says McLaughlin. “We think of ourselves as modest in size, and yet we’ve made a big impact on these communities. The power of a small contribution is that others will follow. Whatever you do, however small, you’re helping, and you’re setting an example. So we’re going to do what we can.”