During a celebration of the Winter Solstice on December 21, 1988, a group of Austinites had a vision. They were concerned with global warming and deforestation, and wondered if planting trees could be a solution to address these issues locally. Thus, TreeFolks was born.
Shortly after, a group including TreeFolks founders Ken Gaede, Dave Kettler, and Mark Dameron agreed to each plant one tree in Austin. Dave Kettler started by planting a tree in his front yard. At their next meeting, the group compared notes on the trees they planted. They realized that with their combined passion and effort, they could create something bigger.
“We wanted to be like a rock, dropping in a pond, and create the ripples,” says Ken Gaede.
In January of 1989, the group officially planted their first tree at a nursing home in Bastrop. “You could say we weren’t TreeFolks then….but you could say that was the first tree planted by the group,” says Ken.
From there, they agreed on the name. “We were about trees and were just plain folks,” says Dave. The group approached then-City Forester John Giedraitis about how to get started. John helped the group find contacts and the trees. From there, they began planting at schools and other public sites.
John suggested they plant trees in street medians, starting with Stassney Lane in South Austin. TreeFolks managed the volunteers and outreach; the City of Austin dug the holes; and Jack Brown Cleaners provided funding. Those same trees on Stassney Lane continue to thrive today.
TreeFolks officially became incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit on August 30, 1989. In the early 1990s, they were invited to attend a national tree conference in Washington, D.C. where they connected with federal funders who awarded the first grant allowing TreeFolks to hire its first Executive Director and first paid staff member.
Since then, TreeFolks has grown to work with communities throughout Central Texas in community tree planting, street tree and backyard tree giveaways, education and urban-wildland reforestation efforts. From a single acorn has grown a canopy to shade communities in Austin, Bastrop, and Hays Counties, and serve thousands of Texas’ people.