It starts with the very ground of our being, the Earth we all live on.”
Rooted in the soil we grow, ReWild Long Island has helped create more than 10 sustainable gardens and 4 chapters dedicated to creating earth-friendly habitats in their yards. The mission of ReWild Long Island is to work with communities on Long Island to protect and improve the biodiversity, resilience and health of regional ecosystems by adopting sustainable landscaping practices centered around native plants. This is achieved through practical and positive demonstrations.
Over the last few months, ReWild’s Summer internship program has participants hard at work in their communities. Collaborating with a variety of groups from the Science Museum of Long Island to the Sands Point Preserve, these young, eco-conscious individuals are planting Oysters, re-establishing local bio systems, and showing the strength of Long Island preservation. The internship program has grown substantially since its launch in 2020. Once only 16 eco-superheroes were ready to make an impact; now about 40 have signed up to work with ReWild into the month of October.
Raju Rajan, founder and Board President of ReWild Long Island, credits growing eco-awareness as a source of the program’s success. “[There is] a growing awareness of climate change and bio-diversity loss. As people come in to the suburbs, they are realizing that a lot of green spaces are being taken for granted. Lightning bugs are disappearing, moths are disappearing… As a community, we are becoming more aware of what is happening. Especially younger people who have a sense of climate anxiety about all this. But the fact that you can turn [climate anxiety] into action, in your own backyard — in your own community spaces — and actually help change those things… that is very powerful.”
Rajan also adds that putting one’s hands to the soil can be a very rewarding process for those willing to give it a try. “It doesn’t take very long to grow tomatoes or corn, or pull out invasives. This is happening in a matter of weeks, and you are able to see the changes you are directly making.”
The organization takes action through a variety of means. One is education, providing the community with information about the value of sustainable landscaping together with in-depth information on how to accomplish this. Such information includes, for instance, plant selection, design, composting, water use, vendor selection and other practical advice on implementation in private and public spaces. Educational resources include their website, blogs, zoom sessions, social media and in-person meetings.
Another aim of the organization is enablement. This includes procuring and making available the resources for sustainable landscaping so that they are cost-affordable and locally relevant. Enablement actions include ReWild’s native plant sales, where they obtain hard-to-find native plants from specialized nurseries at wholesale prices and make them available to the general public. ReWild also contracts with native plant experts to create and customize garden designs based on native plants, and makes affordable consulting services available.
Finally, there are eco-system development efforts. Conventional landscaping is a $100 billion business annually. A sustainable future requires multiple facets of this industry to move towards sustainability. This includes landscapers, architects, garden centers, nurseries/growers, real estate developers, landscape equipment manufacturers, chain stores, chemical manufacturers etc., that are invested in conventional chemical-based monocultures. ReWild forms alliances and partnerships to bring conventional landscaping industry from extractive and monocultural practices to regenerative and resilient practices. This sustainable system is an essential tool to realizing ReWild’s mission. A big aspect of ReWild’s ecosystem is partnership with other community organizations that work towards similar goals with, perhaps, differences in emphasis. ReWild believes in actively seeking and creating linkages so that duplicative efforts are minimized while impact is maximized. ReWild also believes in engaging our political representatives to educate them and improve the quality of laws that impact the environment.
So what does this mean for the every day home (or garden) owner? What can we all do to work towards a more sustainable eco- system on Long Island? The organization names five practices as key to sustainability:
Compost: Our yards and kitchens produce a steady stream of organic waste that can be turned into fertile soil that sequesters carbon and creates habitat under ground. Soil is the foundation of all civilization. ReWild promotes practices such as composting, vermiculture and bokashi fermentation to turn organic waste streams into valuable fertilizer for our gardens.
Reduce/Reuse/Recycle: Sustainable gardening should not become yet another excuse for buying stuff we don’t really need. Planting perennials reduces the carbon footprint associated with annual plants purchased from box stores each year. Our yards and kitchens produce a steady stream of organic and plastic waste that should be reduced and recycled with creative “second uses” for things that would otherwise be junked.
Organic Gardening: ReWild also believes that locally grown healthy food enhances our health and our connection to the land. They encourage residents to grow food alongside their native plants that attract pollinators and use composted yard waste to mulch and fertilize gardens. We need to stop spraying chemicals that hurt pollinators and devastate the ecosystem. ReWild has also created strong partnerships with local organizations that focus on issues of food security and sustainability to help mitigate hunger in our community.
Water Wisely: Long Island’s aquifers, streams and ocean waters need to be protected from pollution and recharged as part of the water cycle. The use of rain barrels, biospheres, rain gardens and smart irrigation systems, coupled with native plantings, provide an feasible pathway towards landscaping that protects rather than degrades our waters.
Plant Natives: ReWild works to introduce native plant-based gardens in public and private spaces, transforming them into thriving micro-habitats for a variety of insects, bees, birds and butterflies. In addition, their mission is to educate the public at large in the value of ReWilding, as well as to advocate for change in community practices and regulations. They seek to achieve the benefits of conserving water, using fewer chemicals & pesticides, as well as bringing more bees/birds/butterflies to our neighborhoods.
It only takes a handful of like-minded people to raise the awareness and inspire repair and restoration. ReWild aims to shift the cultural narrative away from perfectly maintained spaces that are barren of pollinators, towards responsibility and dedication to life-sustaining habits. It is also paramount to engage our political representatives and work together to refine laws to better protect our environment.
—Information also provided by rewildlongisland.org