View From Here
Where does your love of the outdoors come from? My mum was an avid weekend hiker. More often than not, she dragged me along for the adventure. Once you start spending time in the mountains of the Western Cape, it’s hard not to feel passionate about the environment. In my early twenties, I was lucky enough to travel through Africa from Cape Town to London, visiting 17 countries along the way. This, by far, was my most immersive time in nature. The Ethiopian highlands were a real highlight. The mountains, the people, the gelada baboons…
How did Greenpop come about? In 2010, I flew around the world with a team of filmmakers to produce a documentary about soccer for Volkswagen. We visited 12 countries on four continents, flying about 360 000 km, and we wanted to do something to offset the environmental impact of all those flights. The calculation was staggering: We worked out that we’d need to plant about 661 trees! So we gathered friends and like-minded individuals – with skills in graphic design, web development, permaculture, horticulture and even social anthropology – and started a treeplanting campaign. We initially planned to take a month off to plant trees in the Western Cape, but once we got going we couldn’t stop. Since 2010, we’ve planted about 80 000 trees in South Africa, Zambia and Tanzania.
What does Greenpop do? We plant indigenous trees where they are needed most, in schools, orphanages, crèches and community centres. We work with volunteers, community members and companies. Every year, we also host the Reforest Festival at Platbos Forest near Gansbaai. That part of the Overberg was once a huge indigenous forest, but it’s now infested with alien species. The aim of the festival is to regenerate the landscape through mass volunteer participation. Volunteers join us for a weekend of camping, planting, wholesome food, workshops and entertainment. We’ve planted about 42 000 trees at Platbos to date. Another festival we run is the Festival of Action in Livingstone, Zambia, during June and July each year. We host sustainability workshops and work closely with farming co-operatives, schools and local NGOs.
What does your day-to-day job entail? I’m the Tree-E-O (we love our puns!) and more often than not I’m on my computer, connecting dots and doing project development, stakeholder management and creating partnerships. Sometimes I plant trees. It’s such a great neutral activity that brings an awesome mix of people together, all sharing, learning and connecting with each other.
Why trees? In most South African cities, there’s a huge disparity between the “leafy” privileged areas and the “barren” underprivileged areas. Planting trees benefits communities in various ways: It beautifies neighbourhoods, instils a sense of pride, provides shade, improves biodiversity and enhances food security. Trees also provide economic benefits by increasing property values and opening up opportunities for income-generating activities, like selling fruit, jam and olive oil. How can people get involved? The easiest way is to donate a tree or to do a planting day with Greenpop with your friends or colleagues. Or join us at the Reforest Fest in March 2018.
Your favourite tree species? When I got married, one of my best men told a story about Milky the milkwood tree and Stinky the white stinkwood tree. No doubt I was the stinky stinkwood – it’s my favourite tree – and my wife Lauren was Milky. The stinkwood has a beautiful shape and it’s great for climbing.
If you won the lotto? I’d make one of my outlandish ideas a reality: a practical sustainability academy, where people can learn how to live sustainably in all aspects of their lives.
How do you relax? Lauren and I often travel in South Africa. Recently we visited the West Coast. I love how rugged and stark the landscape is there. Or you might find us in Hogsback, at Terra-Khaya eco-backpackers. I love to get lost in the mountains on my bicycle or watch the mist rolling in from the comfort of a hammock.
On your bucket list? Bali! Before I became a workaholic, I used to be a water baby. I’d like to spend time in the ocean and get back into surfing without the hesitation that comes with Cape Town’s cold water…
For more about Misha and his tree-planting mission, visit greenpop.org or search for Greenpop on Facebook.