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HyLife: How to live like an ant: Small acts make a big impact for Mother Earth

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Posted on: April 13, 2023

By Jessica Arends

Since Earth Day’s inception on April 22, 1970, the celebration has grown and spread throughout the globe — now, over a billion people in more than 190 countries celebrate the annual event, according to National Geographic

Many of us in Hyattsville live out our environmental values on a continual basis by composting, recycling, using solar panels and maintaining gardens to attract native pollinators and manage stormwater. But how much of an impact can one person or family really make when it comes to the environment?   


Volunteers from a permaculture class assist with weeding and maintenance of the Emerson Food Forest, back in spring 2019.
Courtesy of the City of Hyattsville

“Consider the ant!” said Dawn Taft, the city’s arborist and environmental programs manager. “A single ant carrying a grain of sand doesn’t seem like much, but the collective action of the entire colony carrying sand, digging tunnels, sharing food and so on makes a world of difference.” 

Luckily, we have many opportunities here in Hyattsville to live like the ant. 

While walking through Driskell Park two years ago, retiree Bob McTague noticed how many trees were covered by invasive vines.

According to Taft, invasive vines like English ivy strangle and eventually kill trees, which then negatively impacts animals and insects that rely on native plants for food and shelter. The loss of trees also leads to more polluted waterways because trees’ root systems prevent erosion and filter water as it flows into streams and rivers, she said.

Caring for trees ensures a healthy tree canopy, which does more than just provide us with shade. According to the 2020 Urban Tree Canopy (UTC) Report, prepared for the city by the Davey Resource Group, the tree canopy in Hyattsville removed about 41,343 pounds of pollutants and 740 tons of carbon from the air, while keeping 8 million gallons of stormwater from entering storm drains. Higher levels of tree canopy have been linked to lower levels of cardiovascular and pulmonary disease, according to the UTC Report.

Now, McTague regularly volunteers with the city’s invasive plant removal program where he enjoys doing something useful, getting some exercise and learning more about plants in the area. 

“It’s generally a lot of fun. Everyone who shows up is like-minded in wanting to do this,” McTague said. “We usually get a nice cross section of people — from students doing community service to retirees like me.”

Another way to go green locally is to enjoy nature’s delicious bounty at one of the city’s two food forests, where anyone from the community can meander in to harvest and enjoy edible produce at their leisure.

Looking to clean up an empty lot across the street from Burlington Park, the city planted berries, greens and edible flowers to establish the Emerson Street Food Forest during the fall of 2017. A second food forest was created, in spring 2020, at McClanahan Park, previously an underutilized pocket park along Oliver Street, near the Hyattsville Crossing Metro station.

Each spring, starting in April, the food forests will produce sorrel, a lemon-flavored herb; yaupon holly, which makes a delicious herbal tea when dried; and greens like sea kale. Strawberries and mulberries will arrive in May. 

Berries that will be ready to pick in June include currants, bush cherries, black chokeberries, blackberries and raspberries. In the fall, look for figs, which can be eaten fresh off the tree or dried, and persimmons, which have a sweet, honey-like fruit.  

Harvesters are encouraged to visit early in the picking season, and the city welcomes volunteers to help with weeding and watering. A map of the forests and estimated ripening times can be found at

The city also offers free trees for planting, a Watershed Stewards Academy that teaches residents about waterway pollution prevention, and workshops and resources on installing monarch butterfly-friendly gardens

“No one of us can address climate change on our own, but through everyone taking small, meaningful actions we can see progress,” said Taft in an email. “If a majority of our community practices were environmentally friendly — waste management, purchasing habits, home and yard maintenance and more — we could see cleaner streets and waterways, improved air quality, and cooler local temperatures.” 

Happy Earth Day!

To learn more about ways to go green or to volunteer with the city’s environmental programs, including serving on the Hyattsville Environmental Committee and the Shade Tree Board, visit the City of Hyattsville Sustainability and Protecting the Environment webpage. 



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