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Q&A with Todd Fink of The Giving Tree Band

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Photo: The Giving Tree Band with their vegan chef, Cara Wasielewski.
PHOTOGRAPHY by Tracy Graham

The Chicago-based bluegrass musical group The Giving Tree Band is gaining popularity as one of the greenest bands in America. Dedicated to maintaining a sustainable lifestyle, the band is vegetarian, and everything from their instruments and clothes to the recording and manufacturing process of their music is eco-friendly. The band recorded their album Great Possession in the world’’s first certified carbon-neutral building, The Aldo Leopold Legacy Center. They camped out in a local state park and biked to the studio during the 30-day recording session. I spoke to the co-founding member, songwriter, and banjo player, Todd Fink about the band and their green mission.

Can you tell us more about the band’s instruments, made from naturally fallen trees?

When we first started out, this was one of our first concerns. We wanted to make sure our instruments were eco-friendly. We weren’’t sure if this was even possible. I started researching guitar builders and instrument makers, and we found some sustainable instruments, but they weren’’t durable and didn’’t sound good. I felt hopeless, so I went back to searching for guitars solely based on their sound quality. I found Highland Strings in Cinncinatti, Ohio, and the builder sent me a guitar. I loved it, and I felt like it was the best guitar I had ever played.

Then he told me that he knew about our band and our sustainable goals and that the instrument was made from a wind-fallen oak tree and had non-toxic finishes. This was all a surprise to me after such a long search. Since then he’’s made a lot of our instruments, all from recycled wood, which have an incredible harmony of sustainable product and quality craftsmanship.

What initially motivated you to become vegetarian?

I became vegetarian through my meditation practice. I started practicing meditation in my early 20s and was becoming more mindful and aware of my relationship to my body. I started noticing certain foods were not agreeable with me and refined my diet over a number of years. I later learned about the vegetarian and vegan lifestyle. It wasn’’t because of a particular person or philosophy; it was a byproduct of my meditation.

How did the whole band get inspired to go veg?

My brother and I have been practicing vegetarianism for a long time. The other members who joined the band knew they weren’’t just joining for the music. They were aware that if they were going to be part of the band, they would have to be committed to our environmental cause and to vegetarianism. Fortunately, everyone was willing to make that commitment to vegetarianism, healthy living, and positive growth. We all live together and have a vegetarian, mostly vegan, kitchen. We even have an amazing vegan chef who lives and travels with us.  Our food is excellent, healthy, and incredibly delicious——which helps!

What sort of meals were you preparing when you camped out for 30 days during your recording session?

We had a local farm donate food to us, all organic. We had an open fire, and we boiled vegetables, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, and other root vegetables. We kept it simple, seasoning our food with some salt, and we only ate once a day. In addition, we biked 20 miles a day. It was only practical to eat once a day. We’’d leave at 5 am, record for 12 hours a day, come home, and then eat. We worked really hard, and it was a very rewarding experience for everybody. It was extreme recording——reflective of the attitude and philosophy of the band. We go the extra lengths.

For more information visit Plus, be sure to check the website for a six-week fire sale starting on Earth Day, April 22, 2010. The band will be offering all of their music sold at a discounted price. Half of the proceeds will be donated to their environmental non-profit partner, Global Green USA.

—Anna Monette Roberts, Editorial Assistant