These in-their-own-words pieces are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the purpose of brevity.
Serena Chin wants a forest in every city. This 16-year-old in Grade 12 led the environmental team at Richmond Secondary School to plant the first Miyawaki pocket forest in Western Canada.
Tell us about the project.
In 1972, Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki discovered if small plots of barren ground were fed with local compost and densely planted with native plants, forests would grow fast and dense, regenerate the soil, form ecosystems and be effective carbon sinks. They cool the surrounding area, clean the air, and people find them soothing and good for their mental health. These “pocket forests” have spread all over Asia and Singapore. When I heard about this idea, I wanted to see that happen at my school.
We began by studying the idea and identified a 100-metre-square under-used area on school property. We identified appropriate plants with the help of our community partner Garden City Conservation Society. We decided to use plants native to both this area and Oregon to increase resilience as the climate heats up.
We began propagating bushes, trees and shrubs. Sadly, in the first summer, heat killed almost all of our new plants, so we worked with local nurseries to supply the plot.
After digging down a metre, we made the soil healthy with local compost and mulched to help the soil retain moisture.
In 2021 and the spring of 2022, we gave presentations and tours to local groups and elementary school classes, and generated interest on social media. We wanted to involve as many people as possible, ensuring caretakers for the forest for years to come.
On Nov. 19, 2022, at a wonderful community event, 100 small children and elders, high school students, teachers, parents, a delegation from FedEx and the Conservation Society gathered to plant 300 plants from 30 species of bushes, trees and shrubs. This was a wonderful community event.
A 16-year-old student led the environmental team at Richmond Secondary School to plant the first Miyawaki pocket forest in Western Canada. #YouthClimateAction
We did have to water it during 2023’s drought, but it is expected to become self-sufficient within another year or so.
We have been so pleased to see students gathering there as a pleasant place to de-stress. It shelters pedestrians from a busy street. There is an ecosystem of animals, birds and insects developing rapidly within it. We know it cleans and cools the air. It has also inspired other schools and municipalities to plant similar pockets of indigenous forests. The second was planted at Terra Nova Park, also in Richmond, in April. The third will be at Gilmore Elementary School in April 2024.
What led you to be interested in this?
I was raised to be careful of what we had and to respect what others have, too. We would bring our own containers when we picked up takeout food. It seemed odd to me that others would litter, and in elementary school, I would spend lunch hours picking up garbage.
During the pandemic, I read about climate activists. I saw they couldn't do it alone, but at the same time, individual engagement is required to get it done. I helped get signatures on the Just Transition Petition and was proud 48 members of Parliament brought it forward because I knew that meant a really broad coalition of Canadians cared about this. I joined the Green Team to have an impact. I believe we have done that.
What makes it hard?
The project's logistics were challenging sometimes. We wanted it to be free of plastics and fossil fuels in its creation but this was just not possible.
Sometimes, it was challenging to convince people this small project actually matters. I see it as one of the many small necessary steps that will take us where we need to go.
What gives you hope?
People come together to make a difference. I see the teenagers suing their governments to do the right thing. I see grassroots groups working to regenerate and save coral reefs.
What do you see if we get this right?
Pocket forests in every high school and town across the country, creating clean, cool air, regenerating the soil and ecosystems, and creating community as they grow. They help settler communities to learn from, and grow in respect for, Indigenous people, as the knowledge keepers, about which plants to choose and how to nurture them.
What advice do you have for other young people?
You are never too young to start making a difference. Search for different perspectives. This means far more listening than talking, but you will learn a lot and be more useful in the long run. You cannot get very much done on your own. This forest is not my project. It belongs to a large team of people who came together.
What about older readers?
Politics and economics must be done differently. The old ways cannot get us out of the mess they created. Value new perspectives.