Written by Bridget Joyce
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The Levi's team at work The Levi's team at work

Last September 8, Sunbeams, in collaboration with the Jane Goodall Institute of Belgium and the Commune of Molenbeek, and with the support of a grant from Levi Strauss & Co., organized the Levi's Team Day. Several excited volunteers attended the event and spent the entire day cleaning up a park in Molenbeek, Brussels. It was a very typical Belgian day with lots of rain and a chill in the air, but the Levi's people showed up, ready to rock. They strapped on their gardening gloves and split into two groups for the cleanup. One group was in charge of clearing as much Japanese Nut Weed (a poisonous plant found growing on the property) as possible. While the other group, led by Sunbeams founder and president, Ilke, helped to improve the park by building an herb spiral.

As the sky started to clear up, the groups parted ways around 10:30am. The first group, those who would be weeding and cleaning, were given a brief educational tour of the grounds before getting down to business. The guide explained that Molenbeek has become infested with Japanese Nut Weed whose poisonous roots spread to the soil and kill all wildlife in its path. The Levi's volunteers were taught how to remove the plant from the ground by getting down on their knees and pulling at the very bottom of the stem. In some cases, roots of up to six inches were attached to the weed. The volunteers were first brought to a clearing where a tarp had been placed under the soil to prevent the weed from growing; nonetheless, growths emerged. The volunteers were asked to remove these determined plants that made their way through the tarp. The Levi's team worked quietly and diligently. They were occasionally making jokes, but they were truly focused on removing as much of the weed as possible. With the efforts of ten Levi's volunteers, the area was cleared in less than an hour.

Clearing the 'tarped' area of Molenbeek was not only important, but also served as a learning opportunity for the volunteers. They had become acquainted with the plant's appearance and they learned to properly remove the entire root from the ground. The guide looked very pleased with their work. After a brief water break, they were ready for the next level. The guide brought the group to an area that looked as if the Japanese Nut Weed had been growing for months; however, they soon learned that this area had been cleared a mere five weeks prior!

The Nut Weed had nearly destroyed an entire garden. Astonished and a bit dismayed, the Levi's volunteers looked at each other as if to say, "Let's do this!" They strapped on their gardening gloves once more and worked even faster than before. Their speed and determination was extremely admirable. One woman looked around quite surprised as she explained, "I have lived in Brussels for 12 years and I didn't even know this place existed. All this green space in the middle of the city! I hope they can keep it. I always go to the City Park but this place is so much more important." A young girl listening chimed in, "Yes it's very important for wildlife, and the animals that live here all have a function, even the spiders, because they eat the insects."

To emphasize the importance of each and every animal and insect living in Molenbeek, Ilke led the second group to an area where they would be building the herb spiral. The spiral will provide wildlife in Molenbeek with proper shelter. There are shelters for solitary bees and bumblebees, both very important for pollination, as well as homes for hedgehogs, earwigs, ladybugs and different types of amphibians. The herb spiral provides food and water for these creatures, as well as, many other species. Furthermore, nearly all of the herbs are edible for humans, too! There will be wild strawberries growing that children may pick and eat.

To build the spiral, the volunteers worked together to place large pieces of slate in the proper shape. The spiral was then filled with soil and many different types of herbs were planted (see photo). This was not easy work but the Levi's team kept the mood light and stayed positive. They were having fun! Everyone laughed as one man said to another, "You know, I don't mind this kind of work because there's no one bitching at us!" The building of the herb spiral was quite incredible to watch. Each volunteer brought a different set of personal skills and as a group, the volunteers worked together to make the spiral as perfect as possible. Everything was thought through and double-checked, all the way down to the placement of each herb in the soil and the arrangement of the fence around the completed spiral.

In just one day, the Levi Strauss volunteer team made vast improvements in Molenbeek. They took down almost an entire field of poisonous weeds and on top of that, built a structure that will be a beautiful addition to the land. Best of all, they had a great time doing it! Thanks to the grant from Levi Strauss & Co, a small team of just over 20 people was able to take one day out of their lives to help protect our environment. Imagine the difference we could make if everyone chose to help out a little each day. And remember, this kind of work is not only fulfilling but, as the volunteers proved, it can also be very fun!

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