Three years into his presidency and five years into the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt asked destitute Great Plains farmers to stop growing wheat and start growing trees. The idea seemed crazy. Unemployment was rampant in the mid-1930s, and families across the country needed grains for food. But Roosevelt said the federal government would pay farmers to grow trees in soils stripped bare by the Dust Bowl. Not just a few trees, but 220 million trees. Washington bureaucrats called the initiative the Prairie States Forestry Project. Roosevelt, busy selling the country on his New Deal anti-poverty programs, called it the “Great Wall of Trees.” …The brain behind the project was Raphael Zon, an exile from Joseph Stalin’s Russia who landed in the United States in 1898 and earned a degree in forest engineering from Cornell University. He advocated for the widespread construction of shelterbelts, which had proven successful on farms in the harsh steppes of Russia.