Film Review: Hometown Habitat, Stories of Bringing Nature Home

Hometown HabitatFilm by Catherine Zimmerman, 2016

Reviewed by Penny Lewis

Hometown Habitat, Stories of Bringing Nature Home is a 90-minute environmental documentary produced by award-winning filmmaker, Catherine Zimmerman that educates the viewer about the critical role that native plants play in our ecosystems. Beyond the education, the film shares a series of successful, nation-wide initiatives that inspire us to get involved and make a difference in our own landscapes and client projects.

Well-known author, educator, and entomologist Dr. Douglas Tallamy provides running commentary throughout the film to help us understand that nature must be incorporated into each and every landscape, not set apart from where we live. Tallamy’s point is an important one as we arrive at summer and vacation season, when many of us plan trips to National Parks and other vestiges of nature. We shouldn’t have to travel beyond our own yards and communities to find nature. With a few changes in attitude and application, we can make nature integral throughout our communities.

The film’s motivating message is that “All of us have the power to support habitat for wildlife and bring natural beauty to our patch of the earth.” Whereas media coverage often focuses on environmental degradation, Hometown Habitat is breath of fresh air and offers a story of hope. From replanting mangroves in Florida’s watersheds to cleaning up a Rocky Mountain river or planting trees in New York City, Tallamy highlights diverse examples of successful efforts to make nature integral in communities. The projects are varied and include both public and private projects, commercial and volunteer efforts, hundred-acre and pocket garden landscapes. The commonality is the awareness and commitment to making changes in the landscape that bring about healthier environments.

All of the Hometown Habitats featured tell success stories that educate and inspire. Following is a glimpse at just a few of the film’s offerings:

  • The Mangroves Reclamation Project is an eco-art intervention project in Miami’s Biscayne Bay area. Artist Xavier Cortada created mangrove seedling art installations for Miami area schools and museums “to remind us of what our community was like before all the concrete was poured.” Then through volunteer planting efforts the mangroves were rebuilt, restoring natural ecosystems to provide shelter for native organisms above and below the water line, stabilize the shores, protect the city from storms and sea level rise, and serve as a nursery for commercial fish along the coastline.
  • Prairie Crossing is a nationally recognized conservation community in Illinois where nature thrives. Steven Apfelbaum was instrumental in the design and development at Prairie Crossing and narrates this section of the film describing this unique initiative to combine responsible development, the preservation of open land, and easy commuting by rail. With innovative solutions to stormwater, use of native plants, and conservation, the project is considered a national example of how to design communities that support a better way of life, in closer harmony with nature.
  • In Palm Beach County, Florida, the “Babbling Brook” project is a community collaboration that resulted in an award-winning artistic stormwater solution. The project created a retention pond with native planting areas to reduce flood threat, provide habitat, clean stormwater, and increase ecological awareness. A pilot bird sanctuary and other naturalistic elements serve as focal points of this project. The Babbling Brook incorporates native plantings designed to thrive in the wet environment a meandering embankment of recycled concrete slabs.

Throughout the film, Tallamy thoughtfully weaves important ecological lessons that strengthen the message of each Hometown Habitat story and encourage viewer commitment to landscape stewardship. Each lesson reinforces Tallamy’s fundamental premise that the way we landscape is critical and includes the complementary message that using native plants and limiting turf are key to complex landscapes that maximize ecosystem potential.

Whether you are responsible for a small urban lot, residential gardens, or large-scale landscapes, the education and inspiration provided in Zimmerman’s video encourages viewers to contribute to more productive ecosystems and offers inspiration to:

  • Enrich your life and your community by sharing a piece of the earth with a rich environment of biodiversity, thereby reversing the concept that humans should dwell in one place and nature someplace else.
  • Explore business opportunities that connect people to land and people to people through conservation and restoration projects.
  • Build healthy ecosystems that treat all nature’s resources as valuable community resources.
  • Grow connections in your communities and extend the reach of this educational resource by sharing these ecological lessons with neighbors, colleagues, community groups, and municipalities.
  • Investigate additional workshops and programs offered by the numerous groups featured in this video.

The key to ecosystem health is action motivated by education. Zimmerman and Tallamy have created a compelling guide to help us take control of our own footprint on the land and live with nature. Collectively we can create significant wildlife habitat and help to ensure a healthy future for all. Despite the damaged ecosystems that we witness, Tallamy reminds us that nature is forgiving, perhaps not endlessly forgiving, but he believes that she is giving us one more chance.

About the Reviewer

Penny Lewis is ELA’s Executive Director where she has worked for more than a decade. Ms. Lewis develops educational programs, oversees the ELA website, and manages the organization from her home office in southern New Hampshire. In her spare time, she keeps bees, raises ducks, maintains perennial beds, a small orchard, and vegetable gardens. With guidance from ELA programs, her most recent landscape project is a collaboration with Claudia West creating a native plant community on a challenging hillside beneath a mature shagbark hickory tree.

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