Standing in the sunshine, you can hear the happy sounds of the river flowing around us. The birds are chirping, and the breeze blows just enough to keep us cool in the warm May air. On one side, there lays a field, all ready for planting, to grow crops to feed people in our own region and beyond. On the other side is a 2-acre area that looks like gentle grasslands, dotted with tiny flags and surrounded by mature trees bordering the river. Welcome to the Pfennings Organic Farm Microforest.

Planted this spring, the site is an important part of the vision for Pfennings and its role in the creation of a just, sustainable future. With the support of both the Grand River Conservation Authority and Lets Tree Wilmot, more than 200 native species of trees and shrubs have been planted in this area, creating a natural habitat for pollinators, wildlife, and the natural infrastructure that is essential to a healthy farm. Of the 200 trees planted, there are 15 species including Balsam Fir, American Sycamore, Highbush Cranberry, Tamarack, Serviceberry and many others. As a result, the area doesn’t look much like a forest today. The trees and shrubs are still small and can easily be missed. Bordering the area, however, are magnificent mature trees, providing a hint of what this will grow into.

This area was not chosen lightly. Bordering the river, it regularly floods in the springtime, sometimes with more than 6 feet of water standing in the area. That makes it a challenging area for productive yield on this organic farm, and returning it to the forest is a good financial decision. By turning it into a native forest, it helps with absorption of water into the water table, reduces wind and water erosion, and provides that much needed habitat. It will also be a benefit to the farm by protecting the adjacent fields, giving the crops in those areas higher yield and better financial returns. 

But Jenn and Jessica have more in mind to leverage the benefits of green infrastructure on the farm. There is a vision for returning some of the land to a wetland, to support natural stormwater management. Building up of fencerows to reduce erosion and support the Pfennings’ commitment to building an organic farming practice. It will be amazing to visit in a couple of years and see what a transformation has taken place.

Microforests are part of the vision for how we will transition to a just and low-carbon future. SWR has already worked with partners in the community to plant two on school grounds and parks in Cambridge in 2021, and more will be planted in 2022. These microforests help with climate mitigation by drawing and sequestering carbon out of the environment. They support our climate adaptation by slowing down wind and water in major weather events. For residents, the naturalized areas reduce heat island effect, making summers more bearable, while access to nature is just good for the soul. 

If you are interested in learning more or supporting the establishment of microforests in our community, we have lots more information on the website here!