Mill Creek Park. (Staff photo by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer)

The South Portland Sustainability Department is launching the program “100 Resilient Yards.” The initiative unites experts and trained volunteers with landowners to transition 100 properties into resilient and natural landscapes. Each property will be assessed, and the yards will be turned into a natural greenspace that is that location’s best ecological fit. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers will not be used.

“I think what we want to do is change the traditional sort of paradigm around people’s yards that say you need a pristine lawn and for that you need to have chemical inputs like chemical fertilizers and pesticides,” said Julie Rosenbach, sustainability director of South Portland. “And what we want to do is really encourage people to cultivate resilient yards. And then it starts literally from the ground up, with healthy soil and from there healthy soil will help people have healthy plants.”

The goal of the program is to promote “a widespread transition to more sustainable landcare practices,” according to the program’s website. The hope is that South Portland can serve as a model for other communities and change the normalized idea of what a beautiful and sustainable yard is. Transitioning properties into organic lawns, rain gardens, pollinator gardens, vegetable gardens, or native plantings reduces use of chemical products and allows room for native plants. People will be taught how to make ecologically sustainable yards on healthy soil.

South Portland is partnering with Friends of Casco Bay, Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District, Osborne Organics, Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association, Wild Seed Project, Maine Audubon, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, and Garbage to Garden to provide the expertise for the program.

The overuse and misapplication of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides on properties in coastal South Portland results in contamination in streams, storm drains, rivers, and into Casco Bay. The runoff results in environmental impacts that deplete oxygen in the ocean, increase ocean acidification, create harmful algae blooms, and degrade water quality. The impacts also detrimentally affect local fisheries and businesses in addition to the environment itself.

Improving the health of local soils is a way to improve the ecological state of South Portland. According to 100 Resilient Yards’ website, “healthy soils, waterways, and ecosystems are key to our ability to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.”


The program will assist the transformation of various properties to become resilient in the face of whatever factors affect it, such as flood-prone locations, soil compaction, erosion, industrial contamination, lack of soil nutrients, invasive species, weeds, shore land or wetland areas, and/or lack of trees or green space.

“They say right plant, right place, right time,” said Rosenbach. “And we want to make sure that if people are trying to grow grass where it’s shady and wet, that might be better suited to a rain garden, or help people to transition a yard that needs to be mowed all the time with a pollinator garden or a vegetable garden … that will bring wildlife and pollinators.”

The program is being supported by grant funding from Healthy Babies, Davis Conservation Foundation, Bright Futures, Beyond Pesticides, Maine Coastal Communities, and in-kind donations.

The program is free and applications are open through April 1. Applications, as well as more information, are available at

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