As time progresses, we see more people glued to technology and staying indoors for hours on end. Many people don’t even go outside to take a walk or experience the green spaces in their backyards; however, research has shown many benefits to utilizing green spaces both physically and mentally. Michelle Kondo is an environmental epidemiologist with the US Forestry Service, who focuses her research on exactly this: fear in green spaces and their usage in the modern-day.
In her April 9 presentation on Trees, Safety, and Violence, she discussed the fear factors that contribute to decreased use of green spaces even with their countless benefits. One of the biggest fears people have in relation to the use of green spaces is drugs and bringing their families to a place where inappropriate, dangerous activity may be occurring. One quote added from a parent was, “You have to create activities and you have to do it at a safe time and you have to do it in a safe way because nobody wants to bring their children out anywhere and have to duck bullets,” in reference to perceived high crime rates in green spaces. Also, an interesting fear that many people have is trees, and they say that it doesn’t allow police and security officers to be able to have a clear view of the area; thus, they are against the planting of more trees and shrubs. These fears drive people away from utilizing spaces that have such positive effects on mood and should not be a place of fear for any reason.
When the entire world was turned upside down by the pandemic last year, public interaction dwindled, leading to higher rates of poor mental health. The use of outdoor green spaces can significantly help with the burden of a pandemic for many reasons. Green space use during COVID-19 leads to decreased transmission rates, improvement of physical and mental health, and a better experience throughout the pandemic as a whole. In teenagers, the use of green spaces and outdoor nature can lead to decreased stress levels and additionally elevated mood after passing by any green space. Kondo discussed the way outdoor spaces can benefit all of us during such a tough time, but some people do not have access to these safe green spaces. Thus, communities should be encouraged to transform certain underused spaces into green areas.
The United States Farmer-to-Farmer Program (F2F) focuses on prolonged maintenance of environmental resources including green spaces. It was authorized by Congress in 1985 and funded through Title V of Public Law 480. It aims to improve conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, expand agricultural sector access to financial services, and strengthen agricultural sector connections overall. It is a program for sharing the knowledge and skills of farmers around the world.
The High Atlas Foundation, a US-Moroccan nonprofit organization, benefited from 27 expert volunteers in 2017-18, who assisted more than 20 cooperatives and farmers in four provinces. Between July 2019 and March 2021, HAF completed 29 Volunteer assignments with 50 agricultural cooperatives in three targeted regions – Marrakech-Safi, Beni Mellal-Khenifra, and Oujda. In Morocco, green spaces can be utilized not only for personal use, but also for community gathering spaces for planning, empowerment, and a sense of community.
The Farmer-to-Farmer Program is just one step towards conserving and creating green spaces that everyone can access. Additionally, by utilizing volunteer experts in the field, a community of people interested in sustainability can come together to work towards safe, accessible green areas. With more community programs like F2F, green spaces can be conserved and hopefully become spaces people are not fearful of. In Morocco, these spaces can be utilized not only for personal use, but also for community gathering spaces for planning, empowerment, and a sense of community.
Carlie Daniel is an Intern with the High Atlas Foundation and a student at the University of Virginia.