The value of a micro-forest

How much does it cost to build a tiny or micro-forest?

Simple analysis

From a simple accounting point of view, the answer is around $500 per square metre. This figure is based on a $40,000 budget and an area of 800 square metres for the Downer pilot project.

At one online-workshop I ran on the Eight Steps to Make a community micro-forest a participant (I suspect an economist or accountant) commented that it was a very expensive exercise. They used simple maths dividing the total cost by the number of trees (1800). Using this method it costs $22 per tree. But this is too simplistic. It ignores the time and expertise involved in engaging the services of green professionals like landscape architects, water harvesters and community facilitators. It ignores that we are creating spaces within the planting that people can use. It ignores the fact that we are creating a much nicer space that can be used by anyone for free.

Modest garden for a family of 5

In 2021, I’d designed a modest garden for a family of five in Canberra on a 1200m2 block. The house and driveway probably took up 500m2. The garden design included water harvesting and lots of planting, a bit like our micro-forests. The total cost to build was $80,000. It made me realise the public micro-forests we are building represent remarkable value.

Micro-forests empower communities to tackle climate change

The Climate Factory’s micro-forest model draws community together with a sense of purpose. Further it empowers communities to make change at a neighbourhood scale. As it grows, the micro-forest will store carbon, reduce park temperatures and provide habitat.

Shown below are the physical assets and the community assets. Typically community assets are harder to measure with numbers.

Physical assets

The physical assets are easy to measure and can be given a dollar figure. At the Downer Micro-forest over 2020-2021 we built:

  • 20 lineal metres of water harvesting trenches
  • 6 square metres of bog
  • 450m2 of shrub beds with enhanced soil
  • 1800 native plants
  • a recycled timber bench
The Cole St, Downer park in 2019 prior to building the community micro-forest was weedy and dry.

Community assets

The project has activated the local community. They now take pride in their local park. This has resulted in the:

  • Creation of the Downer Parkcare Group
  • 1 community consultation to give residents a say about changes to their park
  • 1 informal on-site consultation
  • 4 community working bees (all held during Covid19)
  • Additional working bees led by the Downer Parkcare group.

Community connectedness

Just looking at the cost per square metre of a tiny forest is too simple. This method ignores community wellbeing and connectedness. This is because wellbeing and connectedness are harder to measure in dollars and are often ignored.

However, the leader of the Downer Parkcare Group, Amit Barkay provides a sense of how his community wellbeing has improved.

I like the fact that it brought the community together more than I envisaged, everyone coming to help, kids, young and old. And the fact that the place has changed in a matter of six months. To the point, that two weeks ago there was a couple who just came with a picnic table and glasses and a bottle of wine, to cuddle on the bench just over there. It was absolutely lovely.

Amit Barkay, Downer.
Amit Barkay, volunteer leader of the Downer Parkcare group.

His neighbour, Leah Moore describes how the creation of a micro forest or tiny forest has enhanced the Downer community. She talks about the physical and community changes that occurred. Leah says,

… there’s been a miraculous transformation. This park used to be quite bare of trees in the middle part here and through the drought got very dry and now we’ve got this flourish of growth and it’s very very green and our communities got behind it. So we’re all in this together. I like that too. I like interacting with my neighbours like that.

Leah Moore, Downer.
Mother and daughter at a planting bee at the Downer tiny forest
The community planted the entire Downer tiny forest during COVID 19.

A model for the future

This project demonstrates a new way of regreening public spaces. Rather than competing for scarce grant money, projects like the Downer and Watson Micro-forest are funded via crowdfunding.

Maintenance expenses

All public landscape projects will require some maintenance in the future. Under The Climate Factory model the community commit to maintain the tiny forest for its first two years. The main job is hand weeding and disposal of weeds.

The micro-forest also saves local authorities on mowing costs. By turning grass into garden beds at the Downer Micro-forest, there is 450m2 less grass to mow.

Eight steps to build a community tiny forest

The Climate Factory has built two community micro forests in the ACT with a third to be constructed in 2022. And the vision is to create a micro forest in every urban hotspot in Australia.

Founder of The Climate Factory, Edwina Robinson says she created the eight step method to show others how to create a tiny forest. In fact, the method can be applied to almost any community revegetation project. She says,

The 8 step method can be applied to any community regreening project. You could use this method to create a food forest or a pollinator garden, it doesn’t have to be a micro-forest – the principles and the stages are the same.

EDWINA ROBINSON, FOUNDER, THE CLIMATE FACTORY

The Climate Factory has created a 54 minute video on the Eight Steps to make a climate-cooling micro-forest.


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