Earth Day is April 22 and one Oryana-ite in Northern Michigan is marking the day in grand style, by planting the largest champion Redwood trees in eight countries.
David Milarch can boast about two significant life achievements: helping to start Oryana and cofounding Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, a non-profit organization in Copemish, Michigan, that is propagating and planting old-growth and champion trees. Milarch was involved in Oryana’s infancy as a buying club and helped seed the idea with fellow natural food enthusiast Joe Tiedeck and others. These two drove a rickety, unheated Ford Econoline van to Ann Arbor to purchase bulk foods such as whole wheat flour, wheels of cheese, and buckets of peanut butter and delivered them to an unheated, donated space on 15th Street in Traverse City where buying club members divvied up the goods. “That’s a shining star of my life,” he said.
Fast forward four decades and Milarch has traveled the globe, collecting samples from old-growth, ancient trees and giving them new life via cutting-edge cloning techniques. The goal is to get the biggest and best genetic representations of different tree species and plant millions of them, in hopes of helping to reverse climate change. ‘What does a dirt farmer from Michigan know about redwood trees?” scientists and experts declared. But against many odds and predictions that it couldn’t be done, Milarch and his team were able to devise various methods to reproduce extremely old trees.
Some of the organization’s projects: Archangel successfully planted a four-acre grove of 3,000-year-old coast redwood and giant sequoia clones near Port Orford, Oregon. A project like this creates a living archive and keeps the genetics of the trees available for future study. They created trees originally planted in Mt. Vernon by George Washington. The Copemish facility currently is nurturing plants from champion trees in northern Michigan, such as the Acme black willow and Traverse City champion black willow from the G.T. Commons. And they cloned 22 of the oldest, largest oaks in Ireland.
With the success of his organization and the publishing of a book about him by New York Times science writer Jim Robbins, the world is beating a path to his door. Milarch has been working on his mission to preserve, propagate, and protect a living legacy of Champion Trees along with his sons Jake and Jared, since 1996, when they co-founded the Champion Tree Project. Archangel Tree Archive was born 12 years later with a more refined mission and steady funding.
The 2012 publishing of Robbins’ book, “The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet,” aroused tremendous interest in Milarch’s work and stories about the organization have appeared in publications such as the Times of London, NPR, and the New York Times. Although all the international press has been invaluable in getting the word out about the organization’s mission, funding is once again a challenge. “We could do a lot more with more money,” said Cory Bigelow, a caretaker at Archangel.
Milarch will be at Northwestern Michigan College to speak about the global earth day planting event on Monday, April 22 at 7 p.m. in Scholars Hall 109.
Milarch has also generously agreed to donate 1000 Acme Black Willow trees for a community giveaway. The trees will be available at the store starting Saturday, April 20. Willows are a water-loving tree and need a moist planting spot with full sun.