Army National Guard 2nd Lt. Corey Read said conservation and military service share common values. The Marine veteran and farmer is part of a new initiative to reduce pollution in Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams by planting 10 million trees across the state by 2025.
The Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership, coordinated by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, brings together a variety of nonprofit organizations, individuals, and agencies to address polluted water. The goal is to stabilize stream banks, improve soil quality, reduce flooding, and provide habitat for wildlife.
“You go overseas and serve in a combat zone and then you come home and see there are other ways to serve your country and community,” Read said.
Read and his wife, Esther, are the owners of Shupp Hill Farms, a 100-acre cattle farm located in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania. Since taking over the family business in 2019, Read continues to explore innovative solutions to keep his family’s third-generation farm successful.
One of those solutions is conservation. His approach is to bring farming “back to the basics” through regenerative agriculture and sustainable farming methods.
“As part of our approach, we wanted to do the right thing on our farm, such as fencing off trees and waterways that are part of the Chesapeake,” Read said.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed spans more than 64,000 square miles. It encompasses parts of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia, and contains more than 100,000 streams and waterways and impacts 18 million people.
The program is a great fit for members of the state’s Veteran Farming Project, says Director Mimi Thomas-Brooker. The organization is a grassroots network made up of veterans, military members, and spouses who farm and operate agribusinesses.
“Veterans and military members who farm in Pennsylvania strive to be good stewards of their land. They respect soil health, clean air, and clean water — this effort will provide a resource to them to conserve the natural resources on their farms.
“A lot of our farms want to plant more trees . . . because it’s the right thing to do but there is a cost factor there. That’s why this is a great match,” Thomas-Brooker said.
According to Read, farming is something that veterans like and sustainability appeals to this new generation of veteran-farmers.
“It’s a very close community; there’s a huge support network there and you kind of feel like you have a purpose. And I think, serving overseas you have a purpose. Farming gives you that community purpose again,” Read said.
There are many reasons to plant 10 million trees but Thomas-Brooker says the top goal is to provide healthy soil and clean water for everyone.
“Trees are instrumental in an urban setting for cooling things off . . . They help clean the air but their root systems, especially near streams are super important to keeping drinking water clean and keeping sediment out of the stream,” she said.
According to the project’s founders, planting 10 million trees will reduce 4.6 million pounds of nitrogen, 22.2 million pounds of sediment, and 43,000 pounds of phosphorus across the state. These changes will help boost recreational activities, increase farm activity, and make the region healthier.
Back on Read’s farm, these initiatives will come to fruition in the spring once the ground thaws. He’s currently working with a consultant to determine the best tree species for his property. In the meantime, he’s taken land out of use, including wetland areas, ponds, and a stream traditionally used to water animals.
Working with the 10 Million Trees Project, a 35-50 foot buffer will be created with what he is calling a “natural park setting along the water.” The trees will be a natural filtration system that will prevent the animals from polluting the waterways with waste. Taking this land out of use comes at a cost to the farm, but Read believes it is worth it in the long run for the farm’s sustainability, the health of the region, and the watershed.
“When I was going through officer training with the Guard, they asked me, ‘Where did you get your values from?’ I always go back to farming. I’ve always been drawn to the hard work aspect of it.
“There’s no more central tie to the community than farms,” he said. “Farms are such an integral part; they are the life force of a community. I want to continue to give back and I think the way to continue to do that is through the farm,” Read concluded.