Palm Sunday gets environmentally friendly

Eco Palms have been distributed to about 2,100 churches throughout the U.S.

Amber Kispert

Different shades of purple adorn the inside of churches during Lent; but some churches are hoping to add another color to the mix: green.

In anticipation of Palm Sunday next week, more than 600,000 Eco Palms, environmentally friendly palms, have been distributed to about 2,100 churches throughout the United States.

Dean Current, a researcher at the University’s Center for Integrated Natural Resources and Agricultural Management, first thought of the idea for Eco Palms in 2000 when he was asked to perform a marketing study looking at the impacts of overharvesting palms.

“There was one group coming through an area harvesting, and another group coming later,” he said. “In some cases they were taking too many palms, so you lose palm populations.”

Current worked with the Rainforest Alliance to determine a more environmentally friendly way to harvest palms.

Eco Palms come from the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala and a reserve in Mexico, but only quality palms are taken and shipped to importers in Texas, Current said.

The reserves take inventories so they can control where to harvest and how much to harvest. This helps prevent overharvesting, Current said.

“There are more palms staying in the forest allowing those plants to grow,” he said.

In the past, 50 percent of palms were discarded due to quality issues, Current said, but only 10 percent of Eco Palms are discarded.

Current said the Eco Palms have a social significance as well. Workers in the palm communities receive an additional 5 cents for every palm that leaves the community.

“These communities take ownership of the forest and protect them because that’s their livelihood,” he said. “By having something you can harvest from the forest that provides income, you are providing value to the forest.”

During Palm Sunday, Christians use the palms to commemorate Jesus’ return to Jerusalem a week before Easter.

Grace University Lutheran Church has embraced the concept of Eco Palms for the last couple years, Jill Abenth, church secretary and seminary student said.

“It’s part of a larger effort of our congregation to practice justice on all levels,” she said.

Like anything new, there will be skepticism, Current said.

Rev. Patrick Johnson from St. Lawrence Catholic Church said he has hesitations about the Eco Palms.

“I have a problem with people defining things eco-friendly,” he said. “What makes something eco-friendly and another thing not eco-friendly?”

St. Lawrence purchases its palms from Palm Gardens Inc,. which harvests domesticated varieties of palms from farms in Texas and Mexico, Johnson said.

“Palm Gardens Inc. promotes Environmental Stewardship in the harvesting of palms from all lands,” according to a letter from Palm Gardens Inc. to St. Lawrence.

Eco Palms can cost more depending where they’re sold, which could be why some churches are hesitant to purchase them, Current said.

“The palm strips are less expensive because they are just a strip and often dry,” he said. “We’re selling the fresh palm fronds.”

The Eco Palms are not as nice as traditional palms, Johnson said, because they’re wider and not as long.

“People don’t like them,” he said.

Abenth said the look of the palms isn’t what is important.

“Our purpose for using the palms is more than aesthetics,” she said, noting their symbolic nature. “If there are a few more brown spots, big deal. It’s not about having beautiful green palms.”

Current said he hopes more churches start to embrace the Eco Palms.

“It seems to be this whole movement in churches – we should be stewards of the earth,” he said. “The purchase of Eco Palms is kind of stemming from that.”