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Green Educators: A Chat with Karin van Toor, IVN & Tiny Forest

By Tess Holmgren

On Friday 17 May the Green Student Bootcamp Challenge takes place at Utrecht University in collaboration with Green Office Utrecht. This session takes us into the forest where we will explore the interconnected world of trees and mycelium with IVN & Fungi Factory.

IVN is a national Dutch nature education organisation that works to connect all generations to the wonder and joy of the natural world. Students will learn from Karin van Toor from IVN how they to make a Tiny Forest‘ in their own back garden, on campus or in their neighbourhood. Karin is the first person in the Netherlands to plant a Tiny Forest in her back garden. She is passionate about the concept of Tiny Forests and the opportunities they create for healthier urban environments. In advance of our session at Utrecht University, I spoke with Karin and learned what students can expect from a Tiny Forest workshop…

Please tell us about your organisation, its inspiration and goals. 

I volunteer with IVN which stands for In Voor Natuur, and our goal is to get people into nature so they can fully experience nature. Essentially, we want to bring nature closer to home. A tiny forest is a manmade forest about the size of a tennis court, densely planted with trees and plants indigenous to the area. The idea of a Tiny Forest was first inspired by Japanese tree expert Akira Miyawaki who devised a successful method of restoring indigenous forests and prevent land degradation. This idea was then translated by Shubhendu Sharma from India into an urban context. Daan Bleichrodt introduced the concept to the Netherlands, so children living in cities can experience nature more easily. Our hope is that Tiny Forests will bring people together. For this to be successful it is important for us to know when we plant a Tiny Forest that, firstly, it is wanted by the local community and secondly that there is a neighbourhood and/or school attached to it because this encourages a sense of custodianship. When people feel connected and responsible the space is used and cared for and so becomes a great place for people to connect to each other as well: it becomes an extension of their home, a starting point for a run, a place to have coffee, a place for children to learn and play.

Without revealing too much about what’s in store, what can we expect from your participation in this year’s Green Student Bootcamp Challenge?

A message about the ways in which we can all contribute to creating positive change. How we can all contribute something small for the better. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed when thinking about climate change, for instance, but I am hoping to show that small actions from many can amount to significant change.

What do you hope participating students will take away from the experience?

Hope. And also a sense that everybody can contribute something, that together we can do a lot when we come together.

How do you see our relationship with nature and with our environment?

We are nature – the grass and the flowers and the trees are our cousins, nephews and nieces. Also, I think we often forget that nature can survive without us but we cannot survive without nature, which is important and humbling to remember.

Has your work and/or research changed the way you lead your life? If so, how?

I was the first private person in the Netherlands to create a Tiny Forest in my back garden. When I first moved into my house there were only non-indigenous trees and not a lot of fauna. I wanted it to be biodiverse and more alive so when I was introduced to the idea of a Tiny Forest I was inspired and thought this seemed a simple way to make a big change. Now a few years later it’s full of life- there are surely 60 or more kinds of birds there. I wouldn’t necessarily say that volunteering for the IVN has changed my path per se, but it has inspired me to stay and continue on the same path I was already on.

What does healthy urban living mean to you?

Well firstly I do not live in the city, but I think in order to live healthily in the city we need to feel more. By that I mean we should live less in our heads and live more in our feelings, our sensations. If we really pay attention to how we feel we would quickly notice how bad it feels the take a breath after a diesel car passes and how much cooler the city is on a hot day because of the shade of the trees. If we were really in touch with these feelings, I think we would make healthier choices.

For information on the Green Student Bootcamp Challenge and how to join the Utrecht session, please see:

http://greenlivinglab.org/2019/04/11/announcing-the-programme-for-the-green-student-bootcamp-challenge-netherlands-tour/

More information on Tiny forests can be found on IVN’s website at https://www.ivn.nl/tinyforest

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