/ AmeriCorps, Habitat at Home,

Cultivating Conservation in our Midst

A 5th grader helping to plant a pollinator garden at Polk Central Elementary, November 2023.

By Virginia Hunter, AmeriCorps Communications & Education Associate.

Going into my AmeriCorps role with Conserving Carolina, I thought that conservation was all about preserving wilderness and farmlands. True, this is a crucial goal of conservation work, especially in an era of global climate change and increasing development pressures locally. But through my service, I’ve become aware of a new facet of conservation: what everyday people can do to restore habitat for wildlife and foster biodiversity, right within their yards, patios, community spaces, or whatever land is accessible to them. I’ve taken an unexpectedly deep dive into this conservation topic over the last few months.

It started when my predecessor Maddie left a copy of Nature’s Best Hope by Douglas Tallamy on my desk with a personal inscription: “Welcome to Conserving Carolina! You have an exciting year ahead of you!” So, of course, I read the book. I also read Sharon Mammoser’s Habitat at Home articles, and marveled at her photos. I helped host talks by Mike Huffman, Steve Pettis, and Bob Gale. From these local experts I learned many ways we can bring human habitats into better balance with nature: how permeable pavers can help rainwater soak into the soil, how to remove burlap from nursery trees to prevent their roots from girdling, and how berries from native plants nourish birds through the winter better than ornamental berries.

While tabling with Conserving Carolina at events like Tryon Beer Fest, people sometimes ask me how to deal with kudzu on their land. I refer them to our website article on how to remove kudzu – the fourth most visited page on our website, with over 3,000 views last year. Our article on English Ivy removal had nearly 1,000 views last year. Many locals see how these invasive plants kill trees and blight their land, and they are seeking the Conservancy’s expertise on how to deal with them.

Why all this talk about plants? Plants are the foundation of any ecosystem and determine the health of the food web there. By cultivating diverse native plants like oaks and goldenrod, and removing non-native invasives like kudzu, we support a healthy ecosystem from the ground up. Thousands of acres of preserved land can support life on a grand scale; but, lay people can also look after wildlife by cultivating pocket meadows or forests in their own yards. In a country where most land is already developed to some extent, Habitat at Home can definitely work at scale too – if enough people participate. Many creatures can successfully coexist alongside us, if we cultivate the right resources for them, or simply let some things be – a patch of dried stems here, some leaf litter there.

Habitat at Home is both a mindset and a skill set. It’s a way of seeing nature as not just in national parks or preserves, but in our midst. It’s also about best practices that requires some learning – and maybe some unlearning too. In my AmeriCorps role, I have opportunities to share this knowledge with adults and youth, through communications like The Holler, educational activities with the Boys and Girls Club, and volunteer projects like Polk Central Elementary’s pollinator garden. I’m looking forward to more hands-on education in 2024, like garden plantings along the Oklawaha Greenway with local students. In January, a group of kindergarteners sowed local wildflowers seeds like Blazing Star, Purple Coneflower, and Joe Pye along the greenway, learning about the flowers’ life cycles and benefits in the process.

Although civic engagement is vital, what’s clever about Habitat at Home is that we don’t have to wait for policy change. Even if we don’t have immense fortunes or tracts of land, we too can contribute to conservation. When you do what you can for nature, with the bits of earth you have available, your contribution is whole and complete, lacking nothing.

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