The Oaks of the 17th Street Market

TreeLab’s groundbreaking effort to expand Richmond’s urban tree canopy.

Nov. 30, 2018 brought the long-awaited re-opening of Richmond’s 17th Street Market, one of the most established markets in Virginia. Among the many hands that contributed to the reconception of this historic center for local commerce is TreeLab, an educational non-profit offshoot of the Enrichmond Foundation, located in a greenhouse on Richmond’s Northside.

With the help of TreeLab, twenty-two adolescent oak trees were laboriously and lovingly planted into modular blocks called Silva Cells. Aaron McFarland, TreeLab manager for Enrichmond, explains that the Silva Cells, made of an impermeable plastic that protects vulnerable roots from soil compaction, are “basically like Legos for trees to grow in.” The renovation of the 17th Street Market provided Richmond with the inaugural introduction of this environmental technology, which will support these saplings in completing their natural life cycles. For healthy oak trees, this could be upwards of sixty years.

In its off season, most of TreeLab’s operations revolve around the upkeep of its planted trees throughout Richmond. These locations include the James River Park System, Forest Hill Park, Hotchkiss Park, and many more. McFarland and his team currently give the oaks in the market a bi-weekly checkup by evaluating the moisture of the roots and the health of the foliage, as well as watching out for potentially harmful bugs. The babysitting process is crucial to the success of a transplant tree. “Plants are like humans,” McFarland notes. “The younger the plant, the faster they recover.” A green thumb can make all the difference when mitigating transplant shock.

Come springtime, the team at TreeLab hopes to see a lively tree canopy amongst the bustle of a returned farmers’ market, and surrounding businesses such as Lulu’s Restaurant are expected to introduce outdoor seating for the warmer months. Enrichmond.org


Stay tuned for the spring market hours! Are you curious about the trees in your neighborhood? Check out the City of Richmond’s Interactive Map of Richmond’s Urban Forestry here.

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