When Diana Failla looks around, she sees what isn’t there. Open space in a front yard in Gretna. A side street along a ball field at the edge of Miller Park with bare spots where ash trees stood. Bare spots in Hanscom Park where past generations once found shade.
She can’t help it. She sees all the areas where trees once stood and where new trees could flourish.
Failla is executive director of The Urban Bird & Nature Alliance and is passionate about trees.
The Alliance, along with Free Farm Syndicate, are the latest recipients of grants through OPPD’s Greener Together program.
The Greener Together program aims to help customers in OPPD’s 13-county service territory collaborate with others to support environmental projects that focus on making a positive, long-term impact on a community’s sustainability.
Members of Greener Together recently voted to provide funding to those two groups. Free Farm Syndicate was awarded $80,000, and The Urban Bird & Nature Alliance was awarded $50,000. They join four other groups that receive funding through Greener Together.
“We’re proud to help these community partners make a difference in the community,” said Britney Gibilisco, OPPD project manager. “And we want to get the word out to grow the program and make a bigger impact.”
The emergence of the emerald ash borer (EAB) and the then-anticipated destruction of thousands of ash trees drove the formation of the Urban Bird & Nature Alliance in 2012.
“We’ve lost about 14,000 trees so far in Omaha to EAB,” said Failla. “And that’s just the parks and rights-of-way, not including residences.”
Destructive wind storms, vehicle accidents, new diseases and even bad luck are also causes of tree decline, she said.
“For every tree that goes down, we must plant three,” she said. “Some trees just don’t make it. Trees are needed all across the city. Trees don’t know boundaries.”
The Greener Together money will help plant more than 150 trees in Habitat for Humanity’s Bluestem Prairie development in May. The 85-home development is in North Omaha near Sorensen Parkway and 51st Street.
The people at the Free Farm Syndicate are no strangers to helping feed Omaha. The group works to close the local food insecurity gap.
Thanks to the Greener Together grant, Free Farm Syndicate plans to increase yields to be able to provide more free, nutrient-dense local produce to those in need.
The group plans to use the money to add infrastructure and decrease labor and material costs. To achieve that goal, organizers will implement sustainable watering techniques, and they will work to increase neighborhood engagement and access to community seed saving projects.
The group, which has five growing plots in the city’s food desert, hosts Free Farm Stands in north and south Omaha during growing season.
Habitat for Humanity, one of the first two Greener Together grant recipients, recently put solar panels on a third home in North Omaha. Solar energy is something Vickie Conway wanted for her home but never thought she could afford.
But when Habitat for Humanity called asking her to participate in their solar installation project she quickly accepted.
“This is a significant opportunity for us,” she said. “My husband has been sick, and the bills are piling up, so this could really help us.”
With funds from the Greener Together grant, Habitat covers the cost of the energy systems, including solar panels and installation.
The other recipients and their projects are:
Greener Together has raised $433,049 so far. It awarded $130,000 in the first round, $144,532 in the second round and $130,000 in the latest round. Anyone interested in the program should visit the Greener Together Community Dashboard to sign up and learn more about the program.
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