VENICE — Student volunteers with the Suncoast Science Center/Faulhaber Fab Lab joined two other organizations on a project to plant over 1,100 trees in Stoneybrook Golf and Country Club on Nov. 6.
“Being able to put it (trees) in the ground was a really satisfying experience,” said Sahil Agarwal, a student volunteer and a senior at Pine View School.
As part of the Suncoast Science Center’s Student Community Innovation Project program, 20 student volunteers partnered with Sarasota Urban ReForesters and Florida Veterans for Common Sense Fund to create a microforest in the area.
In an effort to establish more green spaces, volunteers gathered to plant various kinds of trees.
Situated on .2 acres within the Stoneybrook gated community, the project reused a deforested plot of land in hopes it will have an environmental impact and initiate other sustainable changes in Sarasota County.
All of the trees, once matured, will filter more than 2 million pounds of carbon from the atmosphere in the next 20 years. The trees will also serve as a water filter to help combat red tide blooms.
Volunteers planted around 70 different species of native Florida trees and shrubs needed for a mature forest, which is expected to have a closed canopy in 10 years.
“The idea is because of the diversity, it encourages the plants to grow even faster,” SCIP project coordinator Mimi Faulhaber said.
The densely planted trees of various heights would push the trees to compete against each other and therefore grow faster in a shorter amount of time — hence, the microforest technique.
Because of this competition, not every tree will survive, which is why 1,150 trees were planted.
While the planting of the forest recently occurred, most of the planning took place over the summer.
In its second year operating, the SCIP gave student volunteers hands-on experience to impact the community while also bringing a different perspective.
“This year, our theme was more about the environment in our community,” Faulhaber said.
Over the summer, the high school and college students aided the partner organizations in implementing the microforest project.
The different teams within the SCIP helped handle various tasks, including communications and community outreach, signage, forestry and engineering.
“They really got to be involved and actually contribute,” Faulhaber said.
Dedicating time and hard work throughout the entire summer, the students created the brand kit for SURF Microforest, picked out the species of trees, and planned a walkway and irrigation system.
Faulhaber said the project allowed the students to “learn adult things” and see how things are handled in the real world.
Agarwal was the leader of the engineering team, which oversaw a walkway going through the forest and the irrigation system.
Along with the skills of physics and engineering, Agarwal said leading the team required negotiation and communication skills.
A junior Pine View student, Krystal Tran, also led one of the student volunteer teams.
Tran led the community team, which dealt with everything on the communications side, including creating a website, info-graphics, social media and writing press releases.
“Overall, it was a really good experience being able to work with professionals,” Tran said about working with the partner organizations.
While helping the environment, Tran said she gained communication and leaderships skills from working on the project.
“I think this project was really impactful for me,” Tran said. “Helped me to give back to my community.”
After the bulk of the students’ involvement during the summer, the forest was supposed to be planted earlier in the current school year at Nathan Benderson Park near University Parkway in Sarasota.
Many of the design elements, including the walkway and signage, were specific to that planting site.
However, circumstances changed and a new site plan was located within Stoneybrook.
While the student involvement ended in the summer, students like Agarwal helped plant the trees earlier this month.
“Lasting impact we could go back to see in the future,” Agarwal said.
While the microforest is now located in the gated community, Faulhaber said there will be a grand opening in January for the public to see.
“None of this would’ve come together if they (students) weren’t so passionate and dedicated to the project,” Faulhaber said.
Despite some of the original plan changes, several of the student volunteers helped plant the trees and were able to see the project they worked so hard on during the summer.
Despite some of the original plan changes, the student volunteers were happy to see the microforest finally planted.
“It was really nice being able to go there and see everything we had planned out,” Agarwal said.