2007_07_arts_kate.jpgKate Gilliam heads up Trees Not Trash, a group whose name pretty much explains it all. Gilliam builds planters, plants trees and makes her industrial neighborhood a little more green each day. Oh, and she's a seed bomber, too. We're betting East Williamsburg could use a lot more patches of nature, so help out by volunteering or going to their benefit show this Saturday.

When did Trees Not Trash begin, and what prompted its inception?
I started Trees Not Trash officially in March 2005, in response to the fact that there was literally 1 tree in the immediate neighborhood. I started collecting old tires from around Bushwick and planting in them, then progressed to building proper wooden planters with 2 friends for the neighborhood businesses (the delis, the Archive Cafe on 49 Bogart Street, the Fire Station on Morgan Avenue). In the summer of 2006 I started advertising what I was doing, and put a sign up sheet in the Archive, and was amazed when 50 people signed up in the first day! I joined forces with some rad neigborhood folks, and now we have an email listserv of about 200 people, and plant every Sunday. On average, 10 people come out to help each week.

The organization is described as a neighborhood beautification project. What sort of things do you do?
So far we have had about 50 trees planted (bringing the total to 51 now...!) and more trees will be going in this Fall. My goal is to have at least 10 times that amount in the next 2 years. I have been in contact with the Mayor's office about this one, and am trying to get them to allocate a whole whack of trees to Bushwick as part of Bloomberg's 1 million trees by 2017 pledge.

We have a Community Garden on Bogart @ McKibbin, which was an abandoned plot of land that was being used as a garbage dump (we filled 40 contractor garbage bags full of revolting things...) and we have another little garden directly on the other side of the Morgan L train subway entrance on Bogart. We have recently begun another "green space" on Jefferson Street., between Irving and Wyckoff. You can check out recent pictures of the fence we built and the little trees and garden we planted on our myspace page.

How has working with the Parks Department and their "Request a Tree" program gone?
The New York Parks Dept. has been instrumental in me starting TNT. I read an article in the New Yorker in 2004 about Bram Gunther, the Head of Forestry and Horticulture at the NYC Parks Dept, and found out about the Free Street Trees. It's a great program, but one that a lot of NY residents and businesses are unaware of. People are amazed that there are actually free services in NYC! We have been lucky enough to have the Parks Dept. support us. I actually harassed Bram Gunther by phone and email for a few months before he finally conceded and came to Bushwick to see the lack of trees in the neighborhood. Bram was then able to help facilitate the planting of street trees for us faster than it usually takes (up to 2 years per tree) because we were in such dire need of trees! The Parks Dept. also is very generous in donating trees, shrubs and plants for our community gardening efforts, and consistently give us materials, such as soil, and mulch. I am a huge fan of the Parks Dept!

How can the community be involved with Trash Not Trees, and is there anything people can do on a day-to-day basis to make their neighborhoods in NY a bit more beautiful?
We are always in need of volunteers, donations, tools, services, bands, silk-screeners and anyone with a green thumb! Anyone is welcome to come and help us garden (we garden every Sunday), and I am always interested in joining forces with other like-minded people. We need to take care of the neighborhoods we live in, and it doesn't take much to improve things. I mean seriously, get on the Dept. of Sanitation and request more NYC litter baskets. And get recycling happening in your neighborhood! Start talking to your neighbors, form a group, and take back public space. There are so many organizations set up to help New Yorkers improve their living conditions, like Citizens for NYC, who give out grants for neighbor hod beautification. Once you start making your neighborhood beautiful, people start treating it with more care and actually have some pride in it.

Please share your strangest "only in New York" story.
Well, we found a dead duck in our community garden with a note around its neck saying "Welcome to New York. Duck, motherf**ker".

Which New Yorker do you most admire?
Bette Midler. She saved community gardens in the East Village when they were in danger of being sold for development. A lot of people aren't aware of how rad of a guerilla gardener Bette Midler is. One day i hope to have lunch with her and hear her ideas about community gardening and sustainability. A cocktail lunch would be awesome!

Given the opportunity, how would you change New York?
More trees, less trash! And a better cycling situation for riding in the city. It's a warzone for cyclists out there.

Under what circumstance have you thought about leaving New York?
Well, as a Canadian, I guess I'll have to leave unless someone proposes to me pretty quick! I wouldn't leave by choice; I am so involved in this city and am committed to making at least a little corner of it more beautiful and enjoyable for everyone who lives here.

What's your idea of a perfect day of recreation in New York?
Gardening in our community garden, introducing the neighborhood kids to earth worms and showing them how vegetables grow, digging in the dirt, having water fights, cycling to the beach then going to a show at Asterisk.

What's your current soundtrack to the city?
The Epochs, Parts and Labor, Project Jenny Project Jan, The Fatales, Zulu Pearls, Golden Error, The Giraffes, Big A Little a, White Mice, The Infidels, Langhorne Slim, The Archie Bronson Project, Uncle John & Whitelock

What's the best subway line?
My bicycle

Best cheap eat in the city?
Any restaurant that my friends work at. (i eat for free!)

Best venue?
Asterisk Art Project