Microforest supporters aim for macro results to help the environment
Techniques focus on rapid growth of trees to solve a myriad of climate, ecological issues.
As concern for the environment and the health of local waterways remains a critical concern, one group is tackling the issue by packing big effects into small spaces, often miles from the coastline.
Suncoast Urban ReForesters (SURF), a coalition of local nonprofit organizations, is working to turn empty, unused turf space into microforests. The organizations that make up SURF include the Florida Veterans for Common Sense Fund, Inc.; Solutions to Avoid Red Tide; and Sarasota Bay Rotary Club.
A microforest, as defined by SURF, is a dense planting of native species in a space as small as a fifth of an acre. These forests, called high-performance microforests, can also occupy spaces as large as an acre or more.
“A microforest is a specialized form of rewilding, of restoration of the urban canopy that produces the highest-value, highest-performing habitat in terms of the lost benefits that are the result of overdevelopment,” said SURF Project Director, Charles Reith, Ph.D. “It gives us extraordinary benefits in terms of diverting stormwater that can cause flooding or carry pollution; cooling and shading the area against urban heat islands, which is an effect we know will come with global warming; calming unstable winds; sequestering carbon against climate change ... and then providing excellent wildlife habitats and natural recreation.”
A similar effort at Celery Fields
If the term “rewilding” sounds familiar, it’s likely because of a project undertaken by the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Sarasota Audubon Society and the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast to build back wild natural features to 33 acres adjacent to Celery Fields in Sarasota County.
That project, launched in 2020 and now in the permitting stage, similarly aims to aid in water-quality improvements far downstream. Likewise, the microforest projects aim to replace tree canopy coverage previously lost in the region to decades of development.
The Community Foundation recently granted $75,000 toward the project.
“Their investment in this project will transform the Quad Parcels into habitat that supports a greater diversity of birds and wildlife and becomes a special destination for residents and visitors to enjoy,” Sarasota Audobon president Jeanne Dubi said.
SURF has completed five microforests in the area, its latest on a half-acre at Heritage Harbor Park in Bradenton. The group’s first microforest was planted at Celery Fields in October 2020, and served as a learning experience, proving how important density is to these projects. The Stoneybrook Golf and Country Club houses two of the other forests, with the first being completed in November of 2021 and the second in January of 2022.
Its fourth forest, completed in June of 2022, grows on an acre at Colony Cove, a 55+ manufactured home community in Ellenton. Another microforest was planned for Nathan Benderson Park, that project was canceled before it started.
“The proposed location for the microforest at Nathan Benderson Park was determined to not be the right location related to the future improvements and operational needs for the park,” said Sarasota Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Director Nicole Rissler. A $40 million sports complex is planned at the park adjacent to University Town Center.
Members from the Manatee County Master Gardeners and students from Ringling College of Art and Design also volunteered to help complete the latest microforest project.
This project was made possible by contributions from SURF organizations, the Heritage Harbor Master Association, and Climate First Bank. Volunteer work and material donations were also essential to project completion.
“None of this would be possible without you, the volunteers,” said Florida Veterans for Common Sense Vice President Mike Burns at an opening ceremony for the project. “The bedrock of the future for our children is the sustainability and biodiversity of this planet. We’re going a long way, all of us, to be involved in projects like this. The children of this Earth, and their future, deserve the projects that we are involved in.”
Creating the forest floor
Before the plants at Heritage Harbor could be put into the ground, a suitable forest floor had to be created. These forest floors are created by utilizing the permaculture sheet mulching method, essentially the practice of covering grass with cardboard in order to suffocate it before placing recycled woodchips
According to SURF, the woodchips hold the cardboard in place and create cool, dark, and moist conditions which attracts fungi, other soil microbes, earthworms, springtails, and other creatures that quickly build a biologically active soil. This soil, along with the Miyawaki planting method, promotes super-fast growth. The cardboard eventually decomposes.
“The bedrock of the future for our children is the sustainability and biodiversity of this planet. We’re going a long way, all of us, to be involved in projects like this. The children of this Earth, and their future, deserve the projects that we are involved in.”Mike Burns, Florida Veterans for Common Sense vice president
The Miyawaki planting method is what allows these forests to thrive in such a confined space, with the dense spacing creating shade stress that in turn prompts the plants and trees to grow at an accelerated rate. SURF expects this methodology to result in the equivalent of a 100-year-old forest in 10 years.
Along with the accelerated growth rates, SURF favors these microforests because they require little to no maintenance once planted, meaning that less work and resources are needed to maintain the space than what would be used if it remained an empty turf lot. This, along with the environmental benefits, is why SURF has made it their mission to establish as many microforests as possible throughout the Suncoast.
The group has two more microforest projects currently in the works, one at the Heron’s Nest Nature Park in Lakewood Ranch and another at the Mangrove School of Sarasota. Volunteers laid cardboard and mulch at the Lakewood Ranch location on June 17, and a planting day was held at the school on June 21. SURF encourages anyone who may be interested in partnering with them to contact Reith at email@example.com.
This story is courtesy of the Community News Collaborative, made possible by a grant from Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation. You can reach Sarah Owens at firstname.lastname@example.org