Even though he didn’t officially graduate from Calvin in ’68 because he wasn’t satisfied with his 72-page paper on proofs for the existence of God, Dirk Brinkman entered Calvin Theological Seminary as a philosophy of religion eclectic in ’69 and thinks tree planting is similar work.

“I really went to college for the learning, not the marks or even a degree,” he admitted. “Fortunately I chose Calvin when it had the best philosophy department in North America.” 

Today Brinkman co-owns the largest silviculture (culture of trees) company in North America, Brinkman and Associates Reforestation, near Vancouver, B.C. In 2010, the company celebrated its 1 billionth tree planted (tallied from meticulous records for clients).

During the summer of ‘68, Brinkman and fellow Calvin graduates John Bosma and John Huizinga headed to the remotest, wildest part of the Canadian northwest to make money for grad school. They found a job slashing ahead of the rising waters of the Williston Reservoir, a wilderness experience that inspired him to return to British Columbia. 

“I got short-changed by the contractor, so John Huizinga and I got the contract ourselves. In 1970, B.C. opened its first tree planting contracts, and I found my place in life to give back,” he said.

From replanting trees after clear-cutting, Brinkman grew the business each year. In 1975, he met his wife, Joyce Murray, and they incorporated the company in 1979. Murray is now an elected member of the Canadian Parliament, representing the constituency of Vancouver Quadra.

In 1985, the company began tithing profits to support planter project ideas in developing countries—for example, planting a tree for each person killed in El Salvador’s civil war. In 1995 the company set up a permanent operation in Costa Rica, and now reforests high-value tropical hardwoods in Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, Belize and Honduras. “Our reforestation in Costa Rica is a mosaic of species,” Brinkman said. “Tapir and jaguarondi (endangered mammals) came back which hadn’t been seen in 30 years. Now there’s increased land value, biodiversity and local employment.”

“In 1968 I also saw how poorly B.C. Hydro treated First Nations people. In this last decade we built a First Nation community forest management business out of being someone indigenous people can trust, which, by 2011, had grown into over $60 million in indigenous revenue.”

Brinkman’s interests went global in more ways than growing the company. Nowadays, he’s helping determine the biosphere’s resilience to climate change and other earth systems disturbances, for which he develops specific restoration actions.

“Experts have identified nine threatened planetary boundaries or earth systems on which human well-being depends, climate change is only one such system. We are working at some level in all nine areas,” he said. “We find our business of balancing earth systems safeguards humanities future and the future of life. Restoring ecosystems, agricultural soils, and forests rebalances disturbed critical systems, by removing GHGs, recharging aquifers, building biodiversity and rebalancing nitrogen cycles.”

Brinkman’s new U.S. venture, The Earth Partners, works across the country. For instance in New Mexico and Texas, work with ranchers removes invasive juniper, restores the grassland, replenishes aquifers and increases ranch productivity.

“In 1969 I made Calvin’s first student-directed film, Eere Zij God, because I thought the global nuclear threat made it a critical time. Today there are multiple global threats,” he said. “The next couple of decades are very important and we need to make significant progress now.”