On a given day in Yelm City Park or Cochrane Memorial Park, one might see Yelm-area residents Coco Lopez, 22, and 15-year-old brother, Kevin, out strolling with one of their 300 baby trees.
The siblings have a backyard nursery at their home in the Yelm Highway area, about a mile from Red Wind Casino, that started as a sort of at-home plant science project.
Now, the venture could soon turn into a business for the siblings, who have seen about 40 trees sold in the last year, which is double the usual take-home. Most of the duo’s current revenue goes back into their hobby, though the two have their eyes set on a possible business license.
“We like to call it our business, or our tree nursery, but it’s rather more of a hobby,” Lopez said. “You see, it actually started long ago. We just kind of picked up (saplings) from around the neighborhood and just grew them.”
It was actually Kevin’s doing.
Back in 2014, he had big plans to grow a tree, to care for it and watch it grow. Yet he didn’t just stop with one tree. The nursery grew to about seven in no time.
“We weren’t very successful at the time, but we tried it out, and we really liked it,” Kevin said. “Over the years, we built (the nursery) up and it just got larger and larger. One day we had 12, and then a few years later, we ended up with 100, and then 200.”
Now, with about 50 of 300 trees ready to be sold, the forest’s the limit for the siblings. Of their stock, the duo has blue spruces, several types of cedars and a black locust ready to be rehomed, along with over a dozen of other types of trees at different stages of growth.
“We enjoy growing them in general — getting to see the changes each year that passes by, seeing the buds burst,” Lopez said. “I like just growing trees in general and sharing that with everyone.”
“Sharing our passion with people is one of our favorite things,” he said. “We like growing the trees up, and as we see them grow up, we sell them. And as we do that, we build up our nursery. As we get bigger and bigger, we sell more trees.”
The siblings have a “Kevin and Coco’s Trees” Facebook page for the business side of things and also an Instagram page to share their journey.
“On our Instagram page, we kind of share our adventures with our trees,” Lopez said. “Like, we go on walks around the neighborhood with them and sometimes we’ll do fairy-garden stuff. Sometimes, we’ll go out to the park and take a tree with us.”
Yet the siblings have faced their fair share of heartache and challenges of late, obstacles that the trees have made a kind of salve for.
“We recently lost our mom last year,” Lopez said. “It hasn’t been a full year yet. While pursuing our trees, honestly, I think (her passing has) gotten us even closer to our passion. And it’s made us more determined to make these trees live.”
When they are with their trees, they feel the presence of their mother, they said.
“She kind of just lives through them,” Lopez said. “She always liked seeing our trees and knowing about them.”
Sometimes their mother would come outside and look at the trees, encouraging and helping the siblings in their hobby, growing a forest of cherished memories of a mother who found joy in what her children were most passionate about, Lopez said.
“We actually have a tree that we have named Annette after my mom,” Lopez said. “And she got to see the tree not too long before she died. Pacific Madrones are her favorite.”
The heartbreak that comes with the loss of a parent has only been coupled with the trials the siblings face on a daily basis.
“Some other challenges that my brother and I face, other than the loss of my mom, is we are both ADHD and we are both autistic,” said Lopez, whose pronouns are they and them.
They added it’s a struggle to make sure all the watering and caring for the trees gets done in an organized manner, especially with Kevin doing online schooling last year because of COVID-19-related shutdowns.
Kevin said the nursery is what got him through the year of grief and virtual learning.
“There were a lot of things I was losing motivation in and interest in, and one of my last, biggest, interests was trees,” he said. “I love just growing trees, being around trees. Just being in touch with nature and seeing the trees just reminds me of how much I’ve done and how much I’ve accomplished in my life, and just what beauty can come of the things you put so much work into.”
And through their work with trees, the siblings try to reach out beyond their own situation, to touch the lives of others and the world itself, Lopez said.
“By planting a tree, you are saving the world,” they said. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to save the world, honestly. We enjoy what we do here and it helps the world, too. We’re very passionate about it and I would say that pursuing your hobbies is definitely something you should do, because if you’re interested in it, it’s never work.”