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ALAN TURNER — The value of urban forestry

ALAN TURNER

As Executive Director of the Mississippi Urban Forestry Council, Donna Yowell is a true cheerleader for the virtues and benefits of urban forestry.

The MUFC is a non-profit organization working closely with communities all over Mississippi, providing assistance in planning and implementation for urban forestry programs, storm water management, park planning, and horticulture therapy.

“A well managed program will have great benefits for communities of all sizes,” she said in a recent discussion. “It’s vital to the economic health of communities, because it helps improve home values, attract visitors and new businesses, and definitely, improves the quality of life for all residents.”

For those who may not know about the MUFC, it is not a politically oriented organization. It’s a volunteer based nonprofit organization formed in 1991 by the US Farm Bill to provide educational and assistance in community and urban forestry.

“A lot of our work is helping to restore and revitalize blighted areas in communities throuout Mississippi,” she said. “And our goal is to help regardless of a community’s resources, so that those communities that may not have the financial resources can still benefit from our assistance.”

Currently, they have 8 different community educational sites that work with a variety of programs and communities.

“We all know the importance of water and water quality”, she told me. “For instance, we help districts to establish green areas around sewage treatment facilities, thus contributing to cleaner and more efficient operations of those facilities.”

Much of the work the MUFC does is in partnership with state and local government agencies, such as the MDEQ. Donna believes their work definitely contributes to the quality of life in Mississippi’s communities, and among other benefits she pointed to is that a green infrastructure also helps in flood mitigation.

One surprising thing I learned from my discussion with Donna is that large swaths of Mississippi are considered “food deserts”, meaning that those areas don’t actually produce much in the way of staple food crops.

“That’s true of the belt running from Meridian to Vicksburg,” she said. “One of our goals is to help restore the region and make it more of an active food-producing area.”

Among other things, the MUFC works to help attract “pollinators” to swaths of land, that is, insects that help to pollinate plants and thus, contribute to a sound horticultural environment. Donna  also likes to talk about the importance of “canopy” in urban areas.

“Forest canopy is especially importance in a state such as Mississippi, where we have long, hot summers. It really helps to provide a cooler and more pleasant environment,” she said.

Donna believes that businesses are more likely to locate in areas that have good horticultural and forestry management in their urban areas.

“Among other things, companies look for areas that are attractive, both to them and their prospective employees,” she suggested.

Donna has served as Executive Director of the MUFC for the past 23 years. I asked her how she came to the job.

“I majored in horticulture at Mississippi State,” she said. “After college, I wound up owning a flower shop, then I got involved in community and economic development. And those connections all worked for me, and I wound up with the MUFC. I really love what I do, because I know that we can and do make a difference in our state and communities.”

Among its membership, the MUFC includes municipalities, corporations, smaller businesses, and individuals, and Donna suggests there are great opportunities for those who would like to volunteer their time and effort to help make Mississippi a better place to live and work.

They will be holding their annual conference on NOv. 1 and 2 at the Mississippi Craft Center, and all are welcome to attend and learn much more about the benefits of urban forestry. For further information, visit their website at MSUrbanForest.com.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal publisher Alan Turner at alan.turner@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1021.

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