Treeplanting is seasonal work that is an essential part of Canada’s silviculture (forestry) industry. Treeplanters have been described as “a fascinating combination of rural residents, counterculture enthusiasts, and university students looking for a quick infusion of cash.” Due in large part to its nomadic lifestyle, gruelling physical labor, and transient workforce, it has developed a unique and powerful subculture, where planters will often form a close-knit community to help each other get through the difficulties of the season.
For Nathan Gregg, this culture and sense of community has an untapped potential to act as a form of rehabilitation. As a former alcoholic in recovery, Gregg’s experience in treeplanting helped him on the road to sobriety. “My sponsor gave me an ultimatum”, he explained. He was given a six month period, during which time he needed to find a place to live, employment, and a way to make his time meaningful. In his newfound workplace, he found all three. “In recovery, the saying is ‘one day at a time’, and in treeplanting, it’s ‘one tree at a time.’” For Gregg, planting trees was an incredibly therapeutic experience, and so the idea took root: “Treeplanting would make a great rehab program.”
Gregg toyed with the idea for a few seasons, while gathering experience in the off-season that granted him additional insight into his project, including “an internship at a low-security prison”, complete with a work-release program, as well as finishing a bachelor’s degree in justice studies. Ultimately, however, he needed to find a business willing to take on his project. In 2018, he found what he was looking for in the newly emerging co-operative treeplanting company Tree Amigos. He applied, got hired, became a member, and pitched his idea, to which the rest of the company was “highly receptive”. Within the developing structure of the co-operative, Gregg found the support to launch the first ever treeplanting rehabilitation initiative: Treehab.
Since arriving at Tree Amigos, Gregg has meticulously built the foundations for Treehab, the pilot program of which will launch in the spring of 2021. He joined the Tree Workers Industrial Group (TWIG) a recently-formed advocacy group for the sector, and secured a partnership with the Community Residential Facility (CRF) ‘Aghelh Nebun, which organizes work release programs. ‘Aghelh Nebun is associated with Corrections Services Canada, although, as an indigenous-based CRF, it also integrates traditional healing practices into its program. “The most successful 3 graduates of the ‘Aghelh Nebun program will be offered a spot in the Treehab program”, Gregg explained. “They’ll have an opportunity to earn some money and boost themselves back into the community.” Right now, Gregg is looking for subcontracts near the Bowron FSR area (for planting), that he will secure through the co-op. His budding program is designed to be scalable by creating peer-mentorship, so that returning planters will help to mentor future members.
Gregg’s project is a testament to his fortitude. He hasn’t drank since 2013, and has now worked 6 seasons of treeplanting completely sober. In bringing himself up from the despairs of alcoholism, he not only reached sobriety, but decided to draw on his experiences to help others achieve the same goal. It was a necessary step in this process to work within organizations that do not operate along conventional economic lines. The members of his co-operative were willing to take on the risk of the project because it aligned with their shared values, the members of TWIG intimately understand the need for projects of this kind and have begun searching for grants and institutional supports, and the team at ‘Aghelh Nebun has a specific and grounded interest in healing the community. For Gregg, he is both grateful and understanding of the motivations behind this support. “They really want this to happen, there’s a stigma that’s associated with these programs. But we know that one of the most important things in people’s transitions is not just employment, but meaningful employment. Something to wake up to in the morning that makes your time worth it.”
For more information, you can watch Nathan Gregg explain his project in his own words here.