Malibu Foundation plants first microforest at Santa Monica College

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Santa Monica College, the City of Santa Monica, and the Malibu Foundation held a groundbreaking ceremony last week to plant the first microforest at a community college. Photos by Samantha Bravo/TMT.

SMC, City of Santa Monica, and the Malibu Foundation collaborate on a project to restore nature in urban areas 

In celebration of Earth Month, the Malibu Foundation, in collaboration with Santa Monica College (SMC) and the City of Santa Monica a microforest was unveiled on SMC’s main campus. The microforest was the first one at a U.S. community college. 

Microforests are densely planted, multilayered indigenous forests planted in small urban spaces, which act as self-sustaining ecosystems that reconnect fragmented habitat and restore biodiversity. The microforest will also provide research experience to SMC biology students.

This method of planting is being adopted all over the globe to restore nature in urban areas, where space is limited. 

During the event, the Malibu Foundation also highlighted its Million Trees for Los Angeles County 2025 initiative, which addresses extreme heat, droughts, landslides, and the severe loss of biodiversity.

SMC Superintendent and President Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery welcomed the crowd to the ceremony.

“Microforests not only reduce our reliance on water, but they also effectively tuck carbon away, while providing opportunities for biodiversity to flourish right in the heart of SMC’s main campus,” Jeffery said. “Projects like this showcase how, throughout its history, SMC has been an early adopter of sustainability measures. After all, we are in the business of education, which requires testing new methods to improve the world we are leaving for our students.”

Executive Director and co-founder of the Malibu Foundation Evelin Weber thanked her team at the foundation for helping bring this project to fruition.

“My team has been so forward-thinking and really pushing all of the operations, from talking to communities to cities and organizations and really pushing forth the message that these plants will actually improve fire diversity,” Weber said. 

California State Senator Ben Allen also attended and shared a few words about the project at the ceremony.

“It’s all about getting more native plants and recapturing the magic of California’s native landscapes, and our land is made for these beautiful landscapes,” Allen said. “This is a part of an effort to recapture our own local environment, and it’s going to help educate the next generation of students coming here.” 

Allen also shared his appreciation for the collaborative efforts between organizations and acknowledged the native land.

“I’m certainly hopeful that a part of this project there will be a strong coordination with native peoples. I know it’s important to the Malibu Campus [Santa Monica-Malibu Campus] as well,” Allen said. 

SMC’s Director of Sustainability Ferris Kawar said the microforest can have a “mighty big” impact in fighting climate change and supporting biodiversity and says he hopes it inspires others to turn underutilized small spaces into microforests.

Benefits of microforests — in a small footprint — include: 

  • Building soil, 
  • Capturing stormwater 
  • Mitigating heat, 
  • Providing native habitats,
  • Improving biodiversity,
  • Sequestering carbon 2.5 x faster 

The SMC microforest will only take up around 300 square feet, but that space will become a biodiverse habitat for the pollinating insects, birds, and small animals that are so vital to our environment.

Plants chosen are native to the region, supporting the local environment rather than invading it, and they are also edible and medicinal. And as the forest’s ecosystem becomes self-sustaining, its plants will need very little water.

These woodlands are low maintenance as well. Once the plants are up and healthy, the forest thrives on its own as an example of nature in action. As the bugs and worms feed, and bacteria breaks material down, more soil is made to feed growth.

Speakers also shared the benefit students will take from the microforest, such as education, research, and experience. Students will evaluate the microforest’s plant growth, examine how microbes feed and develop its soil, and study the insects and animals it attracts.

The Malibu Foundation has held numerous events in Malibu such as volunteer opportunities, fundraiser events, and emergency response workshops with the City of Malibu.

The organization also held another microforest planting event on Saturday, April 27, down the street from the SMC campus on Olympic Boulevard. 

“We’re so proud to close out Earth Month 2024 by installing the United States’ first street median microforest!” Malibu Foundation shared on Instagram