Canopy’s co-founder and science chair, Dr. Sarah Mincey, urban forestry professor at O’Neill and Director of the IU Environmental Resilience Institute and Sheryl Woodhouse, co-founder and board president, started talking about the idea for creating an organization dedicated to increasing the tree cover in Bloomington during the pandemic, around December of 2020. They incorporated as a nonprofit business in April of 2021, so they’ve been operating just over one year.
Sheryl Woodhouse has been founding and growing organizations with an eye on sustainability and social impact for most of her career. After starting her career with the National Park Service at Grand Teton NP, she founded and operated a recycled paper making company, Twisted Limb Paperworks, here in Bloomington for many years. Sheryl then raised money for land conservation as Sycamore Land Trust’s development director before serving as COO of the music and tech PR firm, Rock Paper Scissors. She went back to school and earned her MBA during that time. She's been advising other creative and socially-minded businesses and organizations as a management consultant since.
Questions & Answers
What motivated you to start your own business? How did you develop the skills to start your own business?
Part of what motivated me is simply that I love creating businesses, bringing something into reality that didn’t exist before, something that provides real value to the community and meaningful work opportunities for people. I think that planting trees is something very tangible and easy for anyone to do to make an impact both on climate change and quality of life in their neighborhood. Dr. Mincey has been researching urban forest organizations for many years and has wanted to see one in Bloomington. Her expertise and connections to other experts in the field made this an ideal partnership. I’ve learned so much from her this past year.
What inspires your work and what sets you apart from everyone else?
I am inspired by the enthusiastic support we’ve received in a very short period of time from so many people from all different sectors of Bloomington. People want to see more trees, and they want to help get them in the ground. They’re eager to have a source for having their questions answered about how to maintain them, too. It’s really energizing.
What makes your business stand out from other businesses in Bloomington?
What sets CanopyBloomington apart from other regional environmental organizations is our focus on urban forestry, and making sure we grow and maintain Bloomington’s tree cover in town, for now and the future. And to provide it equitably to all neighborhoods, especially ones that currently have low tree cover. I am grateful for the excellent work of Sycamore Land Trust and the Indiana Forest Alliance, protecting our forests and large tracts of land in South Central Indiana, but I am especially inspired by how important trees are for our quality of life in town, in the urban setting. We need both. Sure, there are tremendous environmental benefits to an urban forest, like carbon sequestration, and there are also significant health (mental and physical), economic, and social benefits as well. I hope you’ll take a minute to read about the benefits of trees in an urban setting. But what probably would surprise most people is the economic value of trees—from savings in municipal storm water management, to property values and utility bills, and even to the amount of money people spend in local shops when there are plenty of trees on a street. And—I personally think that daily life is just nicer when we’re surrounded by the beauty of trees.
What has been your biggest success to date?
In addition to completing three tree plantings and hiring two amazing part-time co-directors, Hannah Gregory and Morgan Hicks, we started our Youth Tree Tenders program this summer, which provides paid experience planting and maintaining trees and professional mentorship to our pilot class of four high school students. This program is possible thanks to a grant from the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County, sponsorship from Ivy Tech, and a contract with the City of Bloomington to prune and mulch the trees in Switchyard Park. Our partnership with the City and the assistance of Erin Hatch, the city forester, have been especially invaluable since we started the organization. We’re so grateful for that.
What has been your biggest challenge?
We face the same challenges as any new organization. We have lofty goals but are still mostly a volunteer-run organization and are limited by the amount of time each of us has to give to the working board. In general, there are three things that would be a huge help to us right now.
Property owners who want to plant trees and organize their neighbors.
While the City is implementing an ambitious plan for planting trees in our public parks and rights of way, this work isn’t sufficient to reach Bloomington’s maximum tree cover. CanopyBloomington is focused on planting trees on private property. We need homeowners interested in planting trees on their property, encouraging their neighbors to do the same, and then calling us to organize a tree planting event in their neighborhood.
Leaders in the business community interested in serving on the Canopy board.
We are really grateful for the critical advice and hard work of our board of directors during our first year in operation, especially in completing an ambitious three-year strategic plan for Canopy. Kudos to this passionate and dedicated team! Learn about our board of directors on the Canopy website. We are always looking for a few leaders in the business community interested in sharing their expertise by serving on the Canopy board. Please reach out to us through the website if you would like to be considered for a board position.
Donors who want to support Canopy’s mission.
While we have an amazing number of people willing to volunteer to plant trees, it costs approximately $200 to plant a 6-8 foot, 1-2 inch caliper tree with mulch, water, tree guards, and the organizing help of our co-directors. Supporting the work of CanopyBloomington with a financial contribution is a tangible and effective way to be involved in enhancing and maintaining Bloomington’s beautiful urban forest.
What are your plans for the future of your business?
Our goal is to plant 5,000 trees by 2033. In the next few years, we’d like to secure some long-term tree maintenance contracts, hire full-time staff, start an endowment, and make visible progress on addressing tree equity in Bloomington—making sure that all neighborhoods have the same lush tree cover as our greenest streets.
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