Microforests Take Root in Communities Around the World

Microforests take root in communities around the world.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Microforests take root in communities around the world. Image: Michelle Oram

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Microforests take root in communities around the world.

Last fall, I participated in the planting of a memorial microforest in a local park. It was an uplifting experience, and it gave me hope that we can win the climate change battle by joining together on these kinds of initiatives. Microforests, also known as tiny forests, are taking root in communities around the world, providing many opportunities for individuals, community organizations and businesses to get involved. 

Importance of trees for our health and planet

Trees are one of the Earth’s greatest defences against climate change. That’s why it’s so distressing to see the effects of deforestation across the globe. 

Think back to your elementary school science class when you learned that trees and plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. But the benefits don’t stop there. Trees also help control soil erosion, improve water quality, and provide a habitat for many species. They also provide a buffer to protect our communities against the extreme weather events that have been occurring more frequently in recent years. 

Deforestation

Carbon emissions have skyrocketed in recent decades—and at the same time we’ve been cutting down trees at an alarming rate to fuel urban expansion and our increased consumption of everything from beef to cosmetics. As humans value consumption over natural resources, and even physical and mental health, we’ve become increasingly disconnected from the natural world that sustains our lives.

The United Nations’ State of the World’s Forests Report reveals 420 million hectares of forest have been lost to other uses since 1990. Although the rate of deforestation has slowed in recent decades, it is still taking place at twice the rate of forest expansion. 

While it’s difficult for any individual to turn the tide on deforestation, microforest projects are a step in the right direction and something anyone can get involved with. 

Microforests 101

The project I participated in was an initiative of Sustainable Waterloo Region’s Microforest Planting Program. On their website, Sustainable Waterloo Region explains that a microforest is “a small area of non-developable land that’s returned to a natural state through the planting of native trees and shrubs.” It can be as small as 500 square feet—roughly the size of a city building lot. These little forests attempt to replicate the multiple layers of plant and animal life found in larger forests, but on a much smaller scale.

I had never heard of a microforest until a few months ago, but these little forests aren’t a new idea. Akira Miyawaki, a Japanese botanist, pioneered the technique commonly used to develop these mini urban forests in the 1970s. 

Miyawaki’s technique involves densely planting small patches of land with a variety of native species. The World Economic Forum reports Miyawaki forests grow into mature ecosystems in just 20 years, in contrast to the 200 years it takes for a forest to regenerate on its own.

Trees ready to be planted. Image: Michelle Oram
Trees ready to be planted. Image: Michelle Oram

The Benefits of Microforests

Planting a tree is always good for the environment. And while microforests represent just a small part of the solution to global deforestation, they help the community in other ways.  Sustainable Waterloo Region lists many environmental, social and economic benefits of these tiny forests. 

From an environmental point of view, microforests: 

  • provide moisture and help climates to cool,
  • improve soil conditions, helping other plants around them to grow well, 
  • provide a habitat for small creatures and insects, and 
  • contribute to biodiversity. 

In addition to the environmental benefits, consider the many social and economic benefits. 

  • Along with their shade, cooling, and wind-reducing effects, trees act as noise buffers in our neighbourhoods.
  • Trees remove air pollutants so we can breathe cleaner, healthier air. 
  • Green spaces improve the aesthetics of our neighbourhoods and can enhance our mental wellbeing. 
  • Tiny forests can reduce flood areas and cut stormwater runoff.
  • Microforest projects bring communities together and provide valuable learning opportunities.  

A microforest is born

Early in 2023, I read a short piece in an email newsletter that featured Sustainable Waterloo Region’s Microforest Planting Program. It was the first time I had heard the term microforest, and I was curious to learn more. A few months later, when Kitchener microforest to feature trees, shrubs in memory of loved ones appeared in our local newspaper, I saw an opportunity to get involved. 

The microforest project was a fundraiser for Bereaved Families of Ontario. My family decided to donate a tree in memory of my brother-in-law who passed away last summer. He loved gardening and being outdoors, so it felt like a fitting and lasting tribute. 

This new forest is located in Voisin Park in Kitchener, and it’s the first in our region to be built in a public park. In just two years since planting its first microforest in the fall of 2021, this local program has grown to 20 sites. Other local microforests are located on school properties, and business sites. In 2023 alone, 12 new sites were planted including an Indigenous reconciliation garden and an organic vegetable farm. Thanks to community support and involvement, the program is thriving and has set a goal of 15 additional sites in 2024.

On a sunny September morning, I joined a group of dedicated volunteers who worked together to turn an empty field into a new microforest. It was amazing to see the transformation that took place in just a few short hours. The planting was followed by a dedication and memorial service.

How You Can Get Involved

If you’re interested in getting involved in a microforest project, start with a quick online search to see if there are any existing initiatives you can support. I had no idea this was happening right here in my own community. 

During my research, I found information about a national mini forest pilot here in Canada on the Green Communities Canada website. In the U.K., Earthwatch has planted over 200 forests through their Tiny Forest program. In the United States, the Arbor Day Foundation supports community forests through several initiatives. Similar programs exist in many other countries. 

If you don’t find any existing projects, the Aga Khan Foundation has a downloadable toolkit to help you plan your own tiny forest project. This could be an excellent initiative for your workplace, school, church, or other community group. 

Microforests provide a glimmer of hope amid all the bleak environmental news and are a terrific example of a small thing that makes a big difference. Experts say one of the best ways to deal with climate anxiety is to do something positive. What better way to get involved than donating a tree or organizing a microforest in your community!

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2 comments

  1. What a fascinating article, Michelle! I had never heard of Microforests before! Such significant initiatives can have enormous payoffs for our planet. Thank you so much for bringing this information forward!

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