Micro-Forests: New Growth in Environmental Trends

Micro-Forests are a new trend that has been popping up around urban areas. I was walking to a local shop a few weeks ago when I noticed a group of people working on a patch of land. They were planting a variety of wild, native plants in a small public space. The area wasn’t used for anything in particular and it was small. About half the size of a plot of land you could build half a city house on. It use to have a sign from a local business and a tree populating it. Other than that it’s sandwiched between two busy streets and not ideal for recreational use.

So planting a micro-forest seems a perfect fit for the town and it’s lowering emissions goals. Moreover, it seems a good fit for most towns and cities. So what exactly are micro-forests? And what effects do they have on our environment? It took a little digging, but here’s what I’ve come up with.

What are Micro-Forests?

In its most fundamental form, a micro forest is a densely planted area, of native trees, shrubs and other local fauna, so as to replicate what a forest would look like in the local, wild environment. This is also a solution to a lot of issues surrounding climate change.

From what I’m able to tell, the concept originated from Japan with a system known as the Miyawaki Method. This method uses local plant varieties to cultivate a densely populated forest in a relatively small space. Hence the term, micro-forest.

The method may have started in Japan, but its tenants are practiced world wide. One article I read said that micro-forests were being planted in countries such as France and India. Other articles have showcased these forests being planted in Australia as well as the United Kingdom. It seems that where ever you go, you’re bound to run into one.

Benefits of a Micro-Forest

Some of the benefits of these mini-forests are impressive for their size. This method plants about 30x the amount of trees than conventional methods yield. And a mature tree can sequester up to 45 pounds of Co2 annually. And with all these extra trees, they retain 30x the amount of Co2, compared with conventional forests. That’s a lot of Co2. There is loads of bio diversity in these small patches of land as well.

One micro-forest can contain a minimum of 300% the diversity, as opposed to conventional reforesting techniques. The root systems from the trees are able to clean and manage storm water run off as well. This helps to stop soil erosion.

And on top of all that, the forest is maintenance free after the first three years. In the start, the micro forest needs some attention. Weeding of invasive species, watering and pulling the material that didn’t survive the initial transplant. But after these first few years, the forest becomes completely independent. It creates its own nutrients without having to rely on chemical fertilizers. And it also lowers the over all ambient temperature of the local environment. Which could be helpful for cities that have these oasis in their midst.

Bio-Diversity

Another benefit of these forests is the diversity in which they collect. Not only the variety of plants and trees that are planted there, but from small mammals, insects and pollinators as well. As new animals that may not have been able to thrive in urban centers find their ways to the forest oasis, nature is in essence being reintroduced to the developed areas of our landscape.

These are all very compelling reasons to start planting more micro-forests, wherever we can fit them. So what’s stopping us? Nothing, as far as I can tell.

Starting Your Own Little Forest

I would later read an article, about the patch I walked by on my way to the shop I spoke about in the beginning of this piece and how it was started by a local resident. She wanted to get involved so she got in touch with the city to find a suitable piece of land for her project. The city helped her find one through the “adopt an island” program and she was off and planting.

The project was totally funded by the city and provided some of the labor as well. There were a total of 15 volunteers who helped plant the nearly 600 seedlings. These cost the town a total of about $700 and were purchased locally. The town’s DPW helped turn the soil, uprooting the grass, and the forest was ready to be placed in the earth. The entire process took about a weeks time for the volunteers with little after care. The town agreed to water the patch for the three years before it becomes self sustained. After that, it should need no maintenance.

Where Are the Places in Your Community That Could Use a Micro-Forest?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m excited that the micro-forest was planted in my town. But the fact is, it’s planted next to a stretch of woodlands. Also, the town I live in is fairly affluent. So, yes, it can definitely use more green space, but the neighboring city which is much more urban, could probably use it a little more.

The city I live next to is decidedly less affluent, has more concrete per square mile and is in need of a little TLC. So it’s with this in mind that I will be looking to replicate this idea where it’s most needed.

I’ll start by talking to the person who planted the one that sparked my interest and see how to replicate it in my near by, neighboring city. Hopefully enlisting the help of some friends along the way. While also hopefully sparking an interest in the community about a sustainable future. Win win.

Micro-Forests, Closer to Home

The question you may be asking yourself is, “how do I get involved”? I don’t have a great answer for this except, maybe search for someone doing it in your community. It seems that most of the micro-forests I researched have been built in the past few years. So the best action maybe to start your own. Talk to your local city council, see if there is something like our, adopt an island program, you could use as a starting out point. Who knows where a few well placed questions could lead.

Also, maybe your town or city has a farmer’s market or community garden. Asking around that community may yield some results as well. The point is, get involved if you feel so inclined. After all, the environmental mess we’ve gotten into won’t fix itself. We made it, we need to be active members in its solution.

That’s it for this week. I’ll be posting updates with more of what I find on this micro movement the more I learn. If you’re interested in more sustainable tips check out these articles to help keep your world a little greener. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

A More Sustainable Home

Black Friday : ( Green Friday : )

Environmental Self-Audit

Image Credits: “Micro Forest” by Dis da fi we is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Trees: Nature’s Cure-All

I recently went for a hike with a friend of mine in woods local to where I live. We like to get out and among the trees once and a while. We got lost, sort of, which was quite a feat since the woods are only about three square miles. The trails are fairly well maintained, though the map I was using on All Trails, was a little off. But regardless of our fumbling around the swampy woods, I was still in a fairly upbeat mood.

Trees, They’re Important

This is normally a situation that would lead to frustration. But the weather was pleasant, the company was good, and I was enjoying the outdoors. I’ve been doing some reading on how trees and forests affect our moods, and it may not only have been the company and quality of the weather that was altering my mood.

There have been many studies that suggest that spending time in and around forests and trees are excellent for our physical and mental wellbeing. The flora in our cities and neighborhoods is equally as important as well, for filtering the pollutants that are being emitted by the buildings and vehicles we use daily.

In the following, I’ll be going over some of the benefits that trees provide us with and why they are so important to maintaining a sustainable future for generations to come. Most of the information from this article was taken from four articles, which I will be posting links to at the end of this piece. So let’s start with our mental health and general mood.

Trees & Our Mental Health

There has been mounting research that suggests that walking in nature, specifically around trees, may improve our moods by lowering levels of anxiety, depression and overall stress. Trees have also been shown to reduce symptoms of ADHD in children as well. This is quite the feat for these gentle giants.

The reason for these benefit still isn’t entirely clear to scientists. But the results continue to point towards spending time in nature leads to overall healthier mental wellbeing. And it doesn’t take long for the effects to settle in. All the more reason to take a hike in some local woods or go to a local park to enjoy the greenery.

Physical Health

Being surrounded by trees also heightens our physical well being as well as emotional. The leaves from trees filter out pollution particles that affect our lungs and breathing. Mostly, they filter the particles that are emitted from vehicles emissions, or the burning of fossil fuels.

Breathing

This is especially important in cities. Not only is this where a fair amount of the concentration of vehicles are located, but also the trees best scrub the air that is within 100 feet of where they stand. Trees that scrub our air, work by way of the leaves, needles and the thousands of tiny pores on each. These pores take in the pollutants that would otherwise affect our lungs and breathing, holding them harmlessly in their body and leaves.

So the more trees that are located in neighborhoods where more vulnerable populations live, the greater the health benefits could be. Unfortunately, neighborhoods in a lower socioeconomic status are most devoid of the much needed greenery while being most tightly packed together. A catch 22 for sure.

Heart Health

Walking around trees has also shown to improve heart health. In this article by Greater Good, They talk about how walking in nature, specifically around trees as opposed to walking in cities, lowers cortisol levels, blood pressure, pulse rate, lowers the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. According to the article, all of these are markers of greater cardiovascular health. And an overall healthier heart.

And All the Things

It isn’t clear as to why time spent around trees helps to improve health, but the data all points to spending time with trees makes a difference for the positive. There is also evidence that shows that being around trees also leads to better birth outcomes and a reduced risk of diabetes. The health benefits seem to be all encompassing. All the more reason to spend some more time in your favorite park or forest.

The health benefits of being in forests has made such an impact, that countries such as Japan and Korea have been championing forest bathing therapy. This practice is much as it sounds. The person will mindfully spend time in the forest, taking in the sensory experiences that the forest has to offer and receiving all the health benefits as well.

And if all of these benefits weren’t enough, taking in the company of trees also has been shown to improve immune system function as well as prolong life expectancy. And again, the reasons for this aren’t quite clear. There’s a theory that it may be related to aromatic compounds that trees release, but further research still needs to be done to provide an answer with some certainty.

Carbon Sequestering

It’s no surprise that trees help to sequester CO2, one of the major greenhouse gasses leading to the current climate crisis, but the rate at which they do is compelling. First, how they sequester carbon is worth understanding, so we understand why destroying trees, or even why only planting new trees without conserving the ones we have is dangerous.

Trees work to sequester carbon by taking it in from the atmosphere and using sunlight and water to turn it into wood. It’s here where the carbon is sequestered for the life of the tree. When the tree dies, is cut, burned or decomposes, the carbon is released back into the environment. This is why planting new trees isn’t the only solution to our Co2 problem.

It takes decades for a young tree to meet the carbon sequestering power of older trees. One tree mentioned in an article by WBUR 90.9 Boston, says that it has sequestered 22,049 pounds of CO2. That’s equivalent to 1,100 gallons of gasoline. This is something that modern science is still having issues reproducing and why preserving the trees we already have is so important.

Getting Involved & How to Help

So with all these health benefits that trees provide for us, the question remains, what can we be doing to help save the forests and trees that are so healing? There are plenty of organizations that are out there doing good work in this area. Volunteering time or donating money to these organizations are a few ways to help. Below I’ll be listing a few of the organizations. Hopefully you’ll find something that matches your lifestyle and personality.

The Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is an organization that advocates for not only our environment, but also social justice movements. One of their initiatives is to conserve 30% of public lands in the United states by 2030. Currently, only 12% of public lands are protected from being developed. By drilling for oil or monocultures like soy or wheat.

Conserving these lands will help to keep the old growth forests that have already done so much in sequestering tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Developing these lands would most definitely be a major blow to climate change for the worse.

And on a positive note, if these lands are protected, then there’s a chance that these public lands could be transformed into public parks. To be enjoyed by generations of people and woodland animals to come. Sequestering C02 and building new places to enjoy the outdoors seems like a win win. The Sierra Club has a lot of projects that they are working on. So if this one sparks your interest, head on over to their site and check out what they are working on.

The Nature Conservancy

This organization is dedicated to protecting our lands and waters from being developed as well. One of the ways they are doing this is by carbon markets. Essentially, carbon markets work by paying a landowner who may have had plans to clear cut a section of their land for a use that would be detrimental to the environment, to keep the trees on the land intact. This way, the land is protected against being developed and the carbon remains sequestered.

They are also engaged in helping to keep the biodiversity of our planet from collapsing by way of species extinction. By protecting the habitats that these species live in, they are working towards keeping the safety of them ensured. So saving the land and habitats of plants and animals will help to ensure their survival and hopefully they will thrive far into the future.

Rainforest Action Network

This organization also helps to conserve land but by focusing on the companies that are profiting off of the destruction of the environment. One of their initiatives is to call for a stop to burning the rainforests to grow food crops to be sold at market.

Farmers in the Amazonian Rainforest have been burning large parcels of land to produce foods for the Agricultural industry for a long time. The downside to this, asides from the carbon being released into the atmosphere, is that the land is not very fertile, and the destruction of the forest is taking away what has been called the lungs of the planet, from scrubbing the air we breathe. If companies like this aren’t stopped, the consequences could be dire.

It’s Not too Late

You can still get involved and help to do your part. These organizations have places on their sites where you can lend a hand. Maybe donating money is more your speed. Or maybe you want to march in the next protest that aligns with your worldview. Whatever your motivation or preferred method, make sure you get out there and make a difference. There’s a lot of work to be done. And there’s no better time like the present to help. The planet needs us. Be the change you want to see in the world. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Greater Good Magazine

US News

WBUR

The Nature Conservancy

Healing Forest

Other reading to consider: Sustainable Clothing

Image Credits: “Forest” by CECAR – Climate and Ecosystems Change Adaptation R is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Updated: 11/6/22

Environmental Self-Audit: Assessing How Green Your Habits are

I’ve been posting a lot about emotional topics lately, so I thought that I’d make this one a little less heavy. I’ve been wanting to do a home audit to see how green my habits are. Something that’s been in that back of my mind for a while. So I thought I’d check out some methods, do some research and let you guys know what I came up with. Here’s what I’ve found.

First Thing’s First, This is Not an Energy Audit

The first thing I found was, there are not a lot of people in this field, doing this work. My first search yielded results mostly from Canada. And one company from Illinois. This makes me a little sad, knowing that there aren’t more people doing this type of work. With environmental concerns only getting more acute, it seems as though there should be a glut of these types of companies and services, doing this type of work.

Sadly, this isn’t the case. The sites I found mostly focused on the energy that is being used in the “house envelope”. This basically means any system that is working in your house, plumbing, electrical, HVAC systems to name a few, that are all working in conjunction with one another and in a closed space, i.e. the home. Like an envelope. So an audit basically adds up to an assessment of how efficiently these closed systems are working.

I’m not sure how well a self audit would work for assessing the workings of more technical systems in your home, such as HVAC for example, but for habits you keep in your day to day household upkeep and routines, you can easily see if things could use a change for the greener. So in the rest of this post I’ll be looking at some ways to make our life style, a little greener.

Green Habits

When it comes to thinking and acting a little greener in our homes, there are quite a few areas we can focus on. Anything from routines in the home to habits we maintain that we can shift to a more green version. Let’s take a look at some of the habits I’ve been keeping to help inspire you to keep your home and daily routine as green as possible : )

Composting

Composting is a great way to help keep food waste out of landfills or incinerators and keep the food cycle green. And don’t worry, even if you don’t have a garden, composting is still an option. Even if you’re living in a city, or a place without green space.

The first way, if you have the space and a garden, is to use a bin composting system. With this system, you can purchase a bin, or convert a container such as an old plastic garbage bin, into a composter. For this system to work there needs to be air circulation (punch holes in your bin), water and an absence of light. This is the ideal environment for bacteria growth that converts food waste into useable soil. You can also use a three bin system, where you place the beginnings of your compost in the first bin and move it to the second halfway, to promote quicker bacteria growth. Finally the third bin is for the finished compost. The green way to deal with plant-based food waste.

And if you don’t have land or use for compost, there are companies picking up people’s food waste to compost it for commercial uses. The company that’s local to my area is Black Earth Composting. They provide you with a small container and pick up your food waste in the same ways the town picks up your trash and recycling once a week. You can then get a voucher for compost from a local nursery, or donate it to one of the projects they are working with. Less waste, more delicious foods. Win, win.

Where’s the Meat?

Another way to produce less waste and be more green is, go vegan. Or maybe eat less meat if you’re not wanting to make the switch. This graph from “Climate Central” shows not only how many more resources are used by the production of livestock for consumption, but also the amount of greenhouse gasses that are produced in the process.

If you’re not ready to make the plunge into going completely meatless, think about eating less meat during the course of your week as a green alternative. Try adding a meatless Monday to your week. Every little bit helps. If you need some inspiration, head over to my Community page where you’ll find a link to “The Minimalist Baker’s” website. There, Dana has loads of tasty, mostly meat free recipes where you will surely find something suited to your taste. Start by typing in your favorite ingredient and see what comes up.

Be a Man by Challenging Tradition

In this article, “The Good Trade” explains the link between our traditional views of what it means to be a man and how they run counter to the ideas of what it means to be an activist for the planet. They explain how certain types of socially created norms can seem unrelated to the current climate crisis, but may share a connection. This is called intersectional environmentalism, and one of the examples is toxic masculinity.

It basically says, that caring for the environment is seen as feminine. And therefore rejected by those who value the tenets of toxic masculinity. Among these tenets are dominance and competitiveness. Caring for the environment and “environmental stewardship is nurturing and cooperative. It’s inherently at odds with internalized, problematic perceptions of masculinity and feminine” writes Zach Thomas of “The Good Trade”.

This makes a lot of sense to me, as a product of the 80’s. My young mind was molded to the shape of thinking that “real men” take what they want, use violence to get it, and anything that was seen as feminine in a man was considered “gay”. It took me a long time to come to terms with these harmful lessons. And it wasn’t all my caregivers fault. They were trapped in the same type of narrow thinking that had been perpetuated by society.

And though I recognize that it wasn’t their faults entirely, they could have come to terms with how they were teaching this type of violence and therefore perpetuating it. They could have formed their own ideas and opinions based on the information they were receiving. But it takes strength to break from social norms.

It takes a lot of willpower, to break the bindings to what we’ve been taught. The lessons that are harmful to ourselves, others and our environment. But it’s possible. Never give up hope, and be persistent in questioning if what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling, may have been shaped by those unhealthy lessons growing up.

Carry a Water Bottle

This one is especially pointed. I’m not sure where the need to keep bottled water on hand came from. This article from “The World Counts”, suggests that it comes from a fear of drinking contaminated tap water. I’m not sure where this fear first took root, but another concerning fact the article brings up is, “An estimate 1,500 plastic bottles end up as waste in landfills or thrown in the ocean every second”.

This blows my mind. And all the more reason to take action. If you drink water, or plan on doing so (which you def should, here’s an article about the benefits of staying hydrated), carry a water bottle. I don’t believe I’ve ever been in a place or situation, where I was in civilization, where it was unsafe to drink the tap water.

Ironically, there are chemicals that can leach into the water you’re drinking from disposable plastic bottles. If you’re looking for an alternative, I like Hydro Flask for their design and ability to keep their contents hot or cold for longer than conventional, plastic bottles. They’re also made from steel. So you’re bypassing most plastics while you’re filling up your bottle. Win, win. Or get one from your local thrift shop. You’ll be recycling and saving resources!

Take Public Transportation or Walk/Ride a Bike

With so many cars on the road, this one is a no brainer. I’m not suggesting that you sell your car. Only to take a closer look at your driving patterns. Where are you going and how often? What’s the nature of the trips you’re taking? Is there another way to get to where you need to be without hopping in the car? Do you work or go to school in an area that has a robust transit system? Maybe instead of taking your own vehicle, you could share a ride with thousands of others, and do your part to lower greenhouse gasses.

Not to mention that commutes can be ideal times to catch up on your favorite podcasts or reading. Writing if that’s something you’re in the habit of, or meditating. Something I did on my way into work when I worked in Cambridge.

Owning a car is a necessity for most people though. For example, if you have children you may need to drop them off at school in the mornings, or pick them up in the afternoon or bring them to various activities. Also, grocery shopping can be difficult if you don’t have a way to bring your groceries home. So you’ll need to rely on your car for certain things for sure.

Getting Around Without a Car

I don’t have a car, and still manage to get all the things done on my list. I walk to work or when I worked further away, I took public transit which was very reliable. When I go grocery shopping, I take public transit to the store, and take a Lyft home. Of course, I only need to take care of myself. If I had a family that relied on me, I would most likely find another way to provide for them. This is where a car would come in handy. What I’m suggesting is, that we think of different ways to get our needs met when it comes to transportation.

If you live close to a commuter rail station, or subway or bus stop, consider taking them to your workplace instead of driving. Or maybe carpooling with a co-worker who lives close to you. This will help you to save on gas, while using a service that is already running or share a ride with someone who is going your way. Reducing your carbon footprint even further. Do you live close enough to walk or ride a bike? Consider these carbon neutral ways of greening your commute time.

Donate Time or Resources

Are you an avid hiker? Do you use the beach frequently? These are great hobbies or activities to cultivate and ways to relax and destress. But there won’t be many places left for our enjoyment with the ways things are heading. What can we do about it? Find a place to volunteer or donate to, that are in line with your interests and hobbies.

If you enjoy going to the beach, why not join an organization that is cleaning the surf at your favorite oasis. Can’t find one? Start one. Organize your friends and family, maybe some coworkers as well. Throw a party on the beach you’re cleaning, but spend some time cleaning the beach first. Then you can all enjoy the the fruits of your labor while cooking out together.

The same idea can work for a particular park or reservation you enjoy hiking. In both cases, it may be best to get in touch with those who are in charge of the maintenance of the area you plan on cleaning. There may be efforts already taken in that direction.

If you’re short on time but have resources to donate, try finding an organization or charity that is in line with the type of activities and activism you enjoy. I’ve donated to 4Ocean, and the Appalachian Mountain Club in the past. If you’re looking for ideas on where to donate time or resources, this post from “The Good Trade” has a bunch of ideas on where to get started. Also, check your local community Facebook page. Or your city or town’s website. There could be something happening locally that you can get involved with. Taking some of the pressure off you to organize something new.

Get Involved

To sum up our current environmental situation, as an old co-worker of mine used to say, “it’s no easy”. And as another co-worker used to say, “that’s how it be sometimes.” I quote these people not to make light of the situation we’re in, but to bring a shared sense of struggle and hope. We’re not in this alone. It’s important to remember those who have helped pave the way and have already done good work. The people who have lifted our spirits when we felt totally overwhelmed by a situation, like the one we’re in now. Or those who have given us the wisdom to help get us through a project when we feel depleted, while there’s still more work to be done.

I’ll be looking into green, house assessments in the future and if you have any insights I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below. What are your green habits? But for right now, there is loads of work that needs to be done. Find something that sparks your interest and get involved in some way. Even if it’s something small to start. At least it’s a start. You’ll also feel better about being part of the solution. And connecting with like minded people along the way. Maybe making some new friends to boot. So get out there and lend a hand at making the world a little more green. You and the environment will be glad you did. Peace : ) & thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “A poem behind my green living room…!!! Un poème derrière mon salon vert…!!!” by Denis Collette…!!! is licensed under

      CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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