Kahlil Baker, 24, is studying what he calls “environmental economics” at Concordia University. He is currently in the reforestation business hoping to create ecologically sustainable forests. Baker was inspired after spending time in an “eco-village” in Costa Rica. He has established two different companies: Heartwood Investments, for those interested in investing in the future of the earth through growing rainforests in Costa Rica while making a profit of the teak and mahogany sales, and La Ola Verde, a charity for those interested in donating $2 to growing a tree in Nicaragua to fill in the missing rainforest.
Tell me about the root of your interest in the environment.
I was living in the middle of the jungle [in Costa Rica ] making an eco-village. Our energy came from solar panels and we had satellite wireless Internet, we lived in houses made from everything from the jungle, thatched roofs, palm tree leaves, wood from fallen trees, and growing tons of different tropical trees, where most of our food came from. It was an example of living in harmony with nature and that whole thing. It seemed like a good idea, but after a while, I thought to myself, ‘What am I doing really? I’m in the rainforest and I’ve built a little world, but really I’m not doing anything for nature. I’m actually doing [something] bad because I’m making a house out of what was the rainforest, and the fruit trees I’m planting are intervening with the native tree.’
Can you explain the requirements and the duties of growing a “system friendly,” profitable and environmentally healthy forest?
You plant a clear pastureland with fast growing species. I plant them at a distance, which, by the time they start crowding each other out, the trees are actually big enough that I can sell them for wood. So, I plant these cash crop species and they reach a certain point where they crowd each other. I then do a commercial thinning by removing every second tree. In the meanwhile, I sell those trees and in its place there’s a stump. I then plant another tree specie, one that needs the existing pioneer species to grow, and one whose point is to be a native tree specie and to never get cut down. Over time, the cash crop species get a thinning and the [long-term] trees keep growing, and meanwhile all these pioneer species are holding together and fertilizing the soil, by the end of the whole process, there’s a native forest completely diverse in age and species. It’s not a mono culture in age or in species, so there’s a whole array of diversity within it.
How do you support this type of business seeing as buying the land, spending the time, organizing employees etc., must be expensive?
Well, obviously this requires a lot of money. What I’m doing, essentially, is finding investors and so forth. People who want to make money and don’t want to invest in the oil companies, but want to do good. I sell the rights of the young trees that are worth nothing at the time [to them], they give me the money up front, and they get the return after the cut. This project required a lot of research to get it going and I’ve been doing this for three years. Last year I got a group of people to invest into it with time and money, and I got this thing to start and that was about four months ago. The trees are as tall as me already. It is stunning and amazing to see these things, so this was just this year. Once I have the start-up money I can sell this off in small packages to people so that I can grow the trees. The more money I make, then the more reforestations happens. (Baker’s main reforestations project is called Heartwood Investments, and is located in Costa Rica.)
What brought you into reforestation as a
venue for revitalizing the planet and helping keep the environment healthy?
I heard about this job in Canada called tree planting and I went and tried it. I’ve been doing it for five seasons now. It first started off as a way to make money; it’s a great way of life for transients. You work for two to three months a year, make tons of cash, while being in nature, having fun and meeting tons of people.
What made you start your own tree planting scheme?
I realized that [tree planting is] old trees being cut down and I’m just planting new ones. You can’t just take an old growth tree and plant a one-month seedling. All the wildlife, soil erosion, it’s not sustainable. I was thinking that to myself and also the fact that a tree is worth a lot of money, but I’m getting paid 80 to 90 cents to plant it. Let me get this straight, you’re selling a tree for $30,000 and paying me 90 cents to plant it, bad deal for me!
Why Costa Rica?
I started traveling in Latin America and in the Tropics and I started seeing how quickly trees can grow. The thing about Canada is that you cut down a 1,000-year-old tree, but it’s going to take 1,000 years to grow back. The seedlings I was planting now [in Canada] would be worth $30,000 in 1,000 years. But in the tropics things grow so quick, you can get some trees in one year reaching almost five metres tall, so in one year you have a tree touching the ceiling, and then the money side of me [thought] of present value and future value. This is where it’s at.
After visiting Costa Rica’s Brinkman Tree Planting company, what did you learn about corporate tree planting?
Brinkman came in and bought palm oil plantation lands for a pretty good price and knocked down all the palm trees and replanted a huge line of monoculture teak, all the same age, and claimed it was good for the environment. So, there’s 1,000 hectares of monoculture teak, which is a foreign specie to Costa Rica, and they grow it and when it reaches a certain age, and it’s good for money, they clear cut the whole thing and sell it. Meanwhile they’re calling this environmentally recreating forests and you think, dude, there’s nothing forest-like about this!
What other projects related to reforestation have you begun?
Well, I thought in the greater scheme of things, the area I’m reforesting is so small and considering the amount of money I spent and other’s people money [on Heartwood Investments], I thought for this much money, if I did this in Nicaragua I could have done way more, and planted way more. I thought about it and if I were to buy land [in Nicaragua], I could have it changed into an ecological area and then a protected forest all for $2 a tree.
For more information, check out www.laolaverde.org.