The San Lucas Mission Forestry Project began in 1975 in recognition of the need to reverse the rapid rate of deforestation taking place in Guatemala. As trees were cut for lumber and more land was cleared for farming to feed the growing population, the steep slopes were being left exposed to soil erosion and changes in micro-climate.
At age 15, Torribio Chajil began learning basic nursery management on the job working with Peace Corps Volunteer, Dave Davis and, throughout the years, the forestry program has become renowned throughout the country.
Working together, the nursery personnel experimented and developed techniques for growing pine, alder, and cypress from seed collected in the local area. The trees were planted to control erosion on slopes too steep to farm. The original nursery on the Juan Ana Farm produced about 1000 trees annually.
More than 40 years later, with a trained workforce, the nursery expanded to produced 40,000 to 50,000 trees a year of over 20 species. These trees were offered for sale to private individuals and for free to schools and other organizations to be planted for erosion control, ornamentals, fire wood and to produce lumber for the future.
The most famous trees that were produced were the improved cypress, the result of a seed improvement project begun in 1981 by Toribio and John Williams, a forester from North Carolina. Together they traveled throughout the highlands of Guatemala surveying native stands and plantations of cypress, collecting seed from the best trees.
These original 30 families of seed were planted in a seed bank in Pachitulul, outside of San Lucas. Using innovative grafting techniques to speed the process, several generations of selection for growth rate, form, and root system strength have resulted in 15 families of improved trees that can grow several times faster than the native trees. The reforestation effort kept detailed records at each stage of the selection process and recommended the best family for a specific planting condition.
The Motto of the nursery has been, "Without trees there is no life."