A Bucket and a Seed: Meet the Tree Lady!

October 4, 2022
Banner image of various tree starting projects.

A story by Barbara Moss on action-taker, Cindy Kessler. This article is featured in the October 2022 edition of The Ripple.

It was one of those gray late-winter mornings when I hurried into my local coffee shop and noticed the container of bare-root tree seedlings with colorful tags. I took a few. The next day, on my way to have lunch with friends, I took several for them. We all planted our little trees.

It was the first time I encountered CNC member Cindy Kessler, though I didn’t meet her in person until recently. She is the originator of Seeds to Trees, Inc., an initiative that offers ready-to-plant specimens of a variety of species native to southwest Ohio. And they are free!

Cindy has been “doing good” in her home community of Loveland, Ohio, since the 1980s, when she founded the city’s tree committee and chaired it for a decade and a half. Evidence of her civic engagement abounds, from streetside tree plantings at Loveland Primary and Elementary Schools, to pollinator gardens at Loveland Post Office, to reforestation of turf areas at Phillips Park. As she says about the latter project, why not spend less time and money maintaining a public facility, make life easier and safer for the groundskeepers (there are steep slopes, bogs, and guy-wired mature trees on their mowing routes), and add beauty and wildlife habitat in the bargain?

Though Cindy has a professional life as a stained-glass artist, she has always had a passion for nature, outdoor recreation, and growing things. Watermelon seeds pushed into the soil—that’s her earliest memory of planting something and anticipating results from an intentional “garden.” The essence of this woman’s existence is to design and make beautiful things while improving the environment, whether built or natural.

But back to those baskets of free trees!

The process is simple: collect seeds locally, plant them in buckets, and nurture them until they are viable for planting. Yes, there’s some watering required in the summer and a bit of work to extract the seedlings from their temporary homes and to bag and label them.

Cindy “harvests” her trees for distribution in late winter when they are dormant and when we humans are emerging from our personal dormancy and eager to get outside. There seems to be the most interest in her little trees around Valentine’s Day, and the weather can be ideal for planting mid-February through March.

This type of operation is limited by the availability of time, growing space, and energy, so here’s where the rest of us come in. Cindy’s website,, is well-designed and very helpful—even inspirational! Her step-by-step, detailed instructions guide you through the process, and she provides lots of information about tree species and their reproductive strategies. Materials usually have little or no cost: collected seeds, repurposed kitty-litter buckets (which are not recyclable), salvaged paper for tags, and plastic newspaper or advertising-flyer bags. Displays for the businesses can be assembled from thrift-store finds.

In addition to coffee shops, Cindy has given away seedlings at ice-cream chain-stores (you know the ones!), Lenten fish fries, corporate offices, churches, and community events. What is her motivation for all this effort? Hearing a barista say that a customer came in to thank the manager for agreeing to have the Seeds to Trees display in the store. Having a visitor to Cindy’s booth at the Loveland Farmers’ Market report on the bur oak (or other species) growing happily in her yard. Getting an animated request from an ice-cream-store employee for their annual allotment of trees.

It should be clear by now that unlike many other types of environmental activism, this one is accessible to almost anybody: individuals, families, youth groups, school clubs, scout troops. To quote Cindy: “Whether you grow five seedlings or a hundred, you will have done something positive for the environment. And if many people do the same, the impact can be huge.” She truly manifests that oft-heard mandate: Think globally, act locally.

So if you are in the Loveland area in late winter, look for those baskets of free trees! And in the meantime, consider how each of us has the ability to develop a grassroots—pun intended—project equal in effect to the one led by this passionate community-activist.


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