SMA Liaison Dorothy Abeyta Utah

Jason Barto

[email protected]

State Coordinators: 

Jeran Farley  [email protected]

ReLEAF UTAH Volunteer Wins Utah Citizen Forester Award for 2016

As dozens of volunteers climbed ladders to harvest the apples from three neglected trees, the mood was joyous. Barbara Richardson was helping them help the trees and launching a new program that would lead to nearly 2,000 pounds of apples being donated to hungry families in 2016 through ReLEAF UTAH’s Fruit Nuts program.

Now her dedication is being recognized by the Utah Community Forest Council. Richardson will receive the 2016 Citizen Forester of the Year award at the annual meeting on January 24.

“It came as no big surprise to us at ReLEAF UTAH that Barbara won the award,” said Jason Barto, the founder of ReLEAF UTAH. “She is a model volunteer. I wish I could have 10 of her.”

 After 18 years as a landscape designer, Richardson had retired to Kamas in 2013 still craving a way to connect to nature. Having planted more than a thousand young trees in her career, she knew that older ones had a special story to tell. By pruning and opening them up, letting the sun into their hearts, the trees could still thrive.

What if the ancient apple trees around the Kamas Valley could be pruned and cared for, their bounty shared? She was shocked when Barto told her he’d had similar thoughts. Together they created the Fruit Nuts program, which under her leadership has doubled the amount of fruit donated each year for the past three years.

“Fruit Nuts would not exist if she were not here,” said Barto. “I’d say her hours are probably second to mine as far as anyone volunteering with ReLEAF UTAH.”

The apple trees are more vigorous because of the work she and her teams of volunteers have done—including mulching and pulling sod away from the trunks. Those trees provide an example to the community of how to care for your trees, hopefully inspiring homeowners and children alike. At the sizable pioneer orchard in Wasatch Mountain State Park, Richardson helps ReLEAF UTAH get the work done with crews of enthusiastic elementary school kids.

“We absolutely feel like we’re the guardians of the trees,” said Richardson, explaining that Fruit Nuts’ prunings and apple pickings aren’t one-time events. The volunteers develop long-term relationships with the trees and plan to keep them healthy for years to come. For the last two years, Richardson has done winter prunings to help prepare the apple trees for a better harvest year.

But it’s not just the fruit trees that have benefited from her volunteer commitment. Nearly 100 trees on public property throughout the valley have been cared for by Summit County Jail inmates with Richardson’s mentoring. The men have participated in dozens of tree grubbings, mulchings, weedings, plantings, prunings and harvests.

“She’ll call from the phone overjoyed she got to work with the inmates,” Barto said.

She’s the person he turns to when he needs to delegate a project. And Richardson, now 60, always finds the time to accomplish the request.

Her passion for trees has extended to helping rewrite the ReLEAF UTAH’s website, crafting and editing articles for publicity, creating outreach brochures, and recruiting more volunteers.

“If I can go out and mingle with trees and people who are like-minded who love trees, it’s a gift,” said Richardson. “And it’s more than I can ever give to ReLEAF UTAH.”

She hopes the people who work with her are rediscovering something that seems to have been lost between the generations. It used to be that people loved hanging out and working with trees, including picking the fruit.

Things may already be changing. One of the inmates who worked with Richardson was recently released from jail. Now he wants to take his daughter to volunteer at a Fruit Nuts’ apple harvest.

“You don’t have to go to a temple or sign up for a seminar or get born again,” Richardson said. “All you have to do is step into the trees and spend time with them. It is right there and it is free. And it will save us.”

Richardson is the third winner connected with ReLEAF UTAH to be recognized with the award in the last three years. Previous winners include the Wasatch High School Envirothon team in 2015 and two Oakley City Eagle Scouts in 2014.

Coming events in State:

Utah State Tree Climbing Championship 9-10 June  2017

North American Tree Climbing Championship 20-22 October 2017

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Links of Interest


Jason is an ISA Certified Arborist and a 2012 graduate of the Municipal Forestry Institute(MFI).  He achieved TRAQ in November 2014.

Jason is the founder and Executive Director of ReLEAF UTAH, a non-profit that cares for and plants trees as well as promotes awareness and education about trees and Urban/Community Forests.  In 2012, he was recognized with the Utah Forestry Stewardship Achievement Award.  Jason was also named the 2015 Arborist of the Year by the ISA Utah Chapter/UCFC. He currently serves as Board Chair of ISA Utah Chapter/UCFC. He has two black dogs named Eva and Spot.