Desert Storm cap planted on his head, Dan Higginbotham installed free shade trees Tuesday in front yards along Zuni Street, hauling mulch and watering the roots.
"It's nice to have work," the veteran of the 1990s Persian Gulf War said.
Higginbotham and six other homeless veterans are part of Veterans City Canopy, a new program that is training them to be urban foresters.
"It's a wonderful trade to get into because nothing stops growing," said Dyana Lynch, an Army Gulf War veteran.
The initiative was recently launched by Veterans Green Jobs, a Denver nonprofit that helps homeless veterans get the skills and experience to join the green-jobs economy.
The program has a contract to plant free shade trees in homeowners' front yards as part of Greenprint Denver's The Mile High Million program, which aims to plant 1 million trees by 2025. Over the next five growing seasons, 35 vets will plant 4,600 trees that will shade homes to reduce energy usage and lower energy bills.
"We're the pioneers," said Frederick Sales, a veteran who years ago studied soil sciences and forestry at Ohio State University.
Last week, as part of their field work, they practiced planting trees at local elementary schools.
"The kids came out and helped," Sales said. "They were really on it. Kids can really dig holes."
Crew members had two weeks of classes, during which they studied tree biology and tree planting, along with basic math and computer science.
On Tuesday, they hoisted bags of mulch and shouldered shovels and rakes.
After planting the first two trees, they huddled and decided how many they planned to plant per day.
Forty, they agreed.
Sara Davis, program coordinator for The Mile High Million tree initiative, offered suggestions for best-planting practices.
So did John Arigoni, Veterans City Canopy's program manager, who is also working to find future employers for the

Dan Higginbotham, left, and Dyana Lynch work together Tuesday to prepare a tree for planting along Zuni Street in Denver as part of the Veterans City Canopy program. (Diego James Robles, The Denver Post)
"We're trying to get a large gathering of landscape contractors throughout the city and state together to give them more information about this program," he said, noting that there are tax benefits and wage supplements available to businesses that hire veterans.
Lynch said the best part of the program is "learning from experienced people."
A former diesel mechanic, she's excited to be getting a start in the new green economy.
"The more trees we plant," she said, "the better for the environment."
Colleen O'Connor: 303-954-1083 or

More information

Homeowners interested in ordering a free tree should call The Mile High Million at 720-913-0681.
Landscape contractors in Denver who are interested in hiring these veterans should contact John Arigoni at 720-236-1309, or e-mail