Maintaining Our Roots
Agriculture expert keeps Sacramento’s trees in tip-top shape
By Jessica Laskey
To say that Leland “Lee” Ruth has a green thumb would be an immense understatement.
The River Park resident not only boasts an impressive agricultural background, he’s also one of the key players involved in the maintenance of Sacramento’s iconic tree canopy.
“Trees are being taken out faster than they’re being put in, especially in River Park,” says Ruth, who’s lived in the neighborhood for 40 years (his wife grew up four blocks from their current home). “If we want to continue to have a tree canopy—which beautifies the neighborhood and improves air quality—we have to get involved in planting new ones.”
Ruth’s interest in agriculture began early. He was raised on a cattle-ranch-turned-diversified-farming-project north of Redding. He went on to earn both a bachelor’s degree in animal science and a master’s in education and agriculture at Cal Poly.
After college, Ruth taught high school vocational agriculture for six years, led the California FFA program for two years at the state Department of Education and then went on to work for the Agricultural Council of California, a lobbying group that represents agricultural cooperatives. After retiring in 1993, Ruth found that he had more time to devote to volunteering, which is when his talent with trees began to take center stage.
The 91-year-old Ruth is a founding member of the River Park Tree Canopy Project, which has planted nearly 135 trees since November 2015. He was also instrumental in the Adopt-a-Tree program at McKinley Park, a partnership between Friends of East Sacramento and the City of Sacramento Parks Department that sponsored the planting of a new tree grove in 2014. Ruth was so dedicated to the success of the project that he hand-watered the newly planted saplings to make sure they got through the drought the next two years.
“Trees need help with watering during the first three years,” Ruth explains. “Then once they’re established and they’ve put down a tap root, they can get by with no water in the summer.”
Ruth has also been the acting “tree expert” for the Shepard Garden and Arts Center’s Perimeter Project, which is busy beautifying the center’s exterior landscaping to encourage event rentals. He’s also active in beautifying his own neighborhood. In addition to working on the River Park Tree Canopy Project, Ruth has been maintaining the entrance to River Park itself—including its beautiful fountain—and neighboring Glen Hall Park.
This dedication to his community has garnered Ruth quite a lot of accolades, including a Certificate of Appreciation from Councilmember Jeff Harris for his efforts to “improve the quality of life” in River Park, the C.K. McClatchy Tree Hero Award from the Sacramento Tree Foundation and an Award of Distinction from the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences for his contributions to the school’s ability to “provide cutting-edge research, top-notch education and innovative outreach.”
While the recognition is nice, Ruth sees the attention being paid to these projects as a way to encourage others to get involved.
“I want people to know that places like River Park look good because of their neighbors,” Ruth says. “The parks staff are overloaded, so I’d like to see more people get involved to support them. It can be something as simple as volunteering to do a little trimming, pruning or watering.”
No green thumb required.