Green Gazette: Urban Tree Nursery Project

This Green Gazette includes updates on a tree nursery project, home energy audits, and more.

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by City of Savannah
This lot-turned-nursery on Mills B. Lane Boulevard is one of three places where saplings are being grown.

Urban Tree Nursery Project

An early nickname for the city of Savannah, Georgia was “the Forest City.” It’s known for its ample oak trees, which shade city streets and provide environmental resilience. But in recent years, these trees have been suffering damage and dwindling because of city development and an increase in intense storm events. This damage costs the city millions in debris removal and environmental degradation, and the species that have long stood tall in Savannah are diminished.

In 2018, Savannah received a two-year grant that would allow for “equitable solutions to local climate change challenges.” Nick Deffley, the city’s environmental services and sustainability director, says recipients of the grant were required to mitigate climate change impacts related to either energy or water. Because of its coastal location, Savannah chose water — with a focus on trees. After receiving the funding, Savannah set three goals for its Urban Tree Nursery Project: Grow the urban forest, enhance workforce skills, and engage community youth.

According to the city, increased tree canopy can reduce stormwater runoff and soil erosion, reduce water pollution, sequester carbon dioxide, lower heating and cooling costs, and more. To begin, the Project identified three vacant lots that were formerly residential properties that routinely flooded. These blighted city lots number in the hundreds and are disproportionately located in low-income communities and communities of color. The Federal Emergency Management Agency purchased the lots from the residential owners, and then gave the lots to the city to manage in perpetuity.

Next, the city purchased and planted 550 saplings at a reduced cost, choosing salt-water-tolerant species that are native to the Southeast and Georgia to better withstand the encroaching impacts of more extreme floods, storm events, and sea level rise. The saplings grow in pots with drip irrigation for up to three years, until they reach a maturity level that allows the city, or a local tree foundation, to plant them or give them away to private property owners in flood-prone areas.

Through the growth of this urban forest, the city has implemented the Project’s social equity and community engagement elements. To provide a pathway into the workforce, the Project offers a paid landscape-management apprenticeship. The apprentices participate in part-time on-site training while working toward a Georgia Certified Landscape Professional accreditation, provided through the University of Georgia’s Center for Urban Agriculture. After their training, the apprentices can manage trees at these urban nurseries and receive GED training and additional job-placement services.

The Project also focused on the neighborhood around each site, investing in neighborhood beautification based on what the neighborhood’s residents prioritized and desired, including park benches, extra lighting, and landscaping. Deffley says the Project wanted the community to feel ownership over the growth of these trees, and for the apprentices to be able to access economic mobility, professional skills, and technical skills while tending the saplings. He calls the lots “laboratory spaces,” where both youth and adults can learn more about trees.

Though the funding depleted when the grant ended in 2020, Deffley says parts of the program will continue because of its strong collaboration with partner organizations, which have helped provide the accreditation, job placement, educational elements, and more. With the infrastructure and growing model already in place, Deffley says the city could continue to plant saplings that grow to recoup the value of their predecessors, once they’re transferred from the lots to their long-term locations.

To learn more, go to the Savannah GA website and search for “Urban Tree Nursery.”

Energy Audits in Austin, Texas

skyline of Austin, Texas at sunrise overlooking a river

An energy audit of a building can reveal where it’s leaking and what it’s lacking to be the most efficient version of itself, giving owners guidance for updates they can make to reduce energy use. In Austin, Texas, some energy audits are mandatory because of the Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure Ordinance, approved in 2008. Austin aims to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity generation by 2035, and this ordinance is one way it’s working to achieve that goal.

Mandatory energy benchmarking is conducted annually on commercial properties, and an energy audit is required every 10 years on multifamily buildings. If a single-family residential home is older than a decade, an audit is required at the time of sale, as well as a disclosure of its results to the new owners. According to Austin Energy, increased efficiency isn’t just useful for lowering emissions; it also makes the building more comfortable, increases its value, and improves indoor air quality.

Jessica Galloway, a project manager for Austin Energy, says a primary component of the ordinance is consumer awareness; many efficiency improvements are affordable, but knowing to implement them is half the battle. For those who want to pursue improvements after their audit, Austin Energy offers programs to help owners improve efficiency, including free weatherization to low-income customers.

Find Local Food

Woman with a protective mask on her face buying fresh vegetables

The pandemic has upended the United States food industry from production to consumption, causing many people to seek food from local producers for greater access and reliability. According to a brief published by Penn State University’s College of Agricultural Studies, Google search trends on local food sources rose across the early months of 2020, with the term “CSA” at one point peaking at the top of Google’s overall search terms list, revealing potential changes in the way people think about acquiring their food.

In response to this shift, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has compiled a list of websites, guides, and directories to help folks discover local food and thereby strengthen their nearby community of farmers, ranchers, and fishers, as well as their own food security and reliability.

NSAC’s site features national resources, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture local food directory and the American Grassfed Association directory, as well as state-by-state listings, with a description of each resource’s niche, from meat-focused sellers to Indigenous producers to Certified Organic farms. Notably, several of the organizations and sites listed under both national and state-by-state resources offer the option of curbside pickup or delivery for a more contactless system.

And the list continues to grow; the site includes an email address you can contact if you know of a resource that’s not yet listed. Plus, NSAC links to its member and partner Farm Aid’s regularly updated list of ways to access local food, which includes national, regional, and state-by-state categories. Additionally, Farm Aid’s site contains guides on how to shop safely at the farmers market and how to support sustainable food systems during the COVID-19 crisis.

To learn more, read “National Guide to Finding Local Food” at National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. You can also further explore NSAC’s website to discover more ways it’s working to build both local and regional food systems, such as its Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program.

Food and Farming Media Roundup

Here are some podcasts to keep you company through the rest of the off-season, recommended by our editors.

Frontline Food.This podcast’s mission is to uncover the truth behind our food systems, and in late 2020, it released a miniseries titled “Beyond Coronavirus.” Producer and host Georgie Styles says this series covers the relationship between food, farming, and the pandemic, and by featuring stories on food sovereignty worldwide, it shines a light on what resilience in our food systems can look like.

Hunger for Justice. This live broadcast series from A Growing Culture covers food system inequities. According to its site, each episode is a conversation with activists at the frontlines of the global food movement, and through the lens of food sovereignty, the podcast covers topics such as gender equality, farmworker rights, and climate change.

In Her Boots.Hosted by regular MOTHER EARTH NEWS contributor Lisa Kivirist of Inn Serendipity, this podcast champions and features women farmers in the sustainable and organic farming movement, whether they’re seasoned or just getting started.

Wildish.This six-part podcast produced by High Country News covers wild horse management in the West. Its creators say it’s meant to explore the topic’s complexities, rather than offering a “simple solution to one of the region’s most intractable natural resource conundrums.”

MOTHER EARTH NEWS and Friends.MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors get down-to-earth with ecology and farming experts to deliver the homegrown know-how that the magazine is known for.