As a coastal city, South Portland is focused on promoting landcare practices that protect the health of residents, pets, and Casco Bay. The city’s Landcare Management Ordinance restricts the use of pesticides and places limitations on fertilizer use across the city.

Over the course of six months, the South Portland Sustainability Department provided technical expertise and resources to begin the transformation of 100 South Portland properties into resilient, organic landscapes founded on healthy soils. Courtesy image

Our aim is to build back soil health, restore native ecosystems, and protect water quality. These features are key to addressing climate change moving forward because they provide habitat, reduce erosion, filter storm water pollution, mitigate extreme heat, and sequester carbon.

What we are working to reverse is centuries of industrial activity, development, and other human activities that have degraded soils. These practices have led to soil compaction, contamination from the accumulation of heavy metals and organic pollutants (such as petroleum and pesticides), a loss of soil depth, and the loss of soil enzymes and microbial activity needed to sustain healthy ecological functions.

In addition, South Portland has about 12 miles of mainland coastline. The overuse and misapplication of fertilizers has historically caused excess nutrient loads to run off into our streams, rivers, sewers, and ultimately, Casco Bay. These nutrient loads deplete oxygen in the ocean, create harmful algae blooms, increase ocean acidification, and degrade overall water quality.

This past year we launched the “100 Resilient Yards” program to create sustainable changes one yard a time. Over the course of six months, we provided technical expertise and resources to begin the transformation of 100 South Portland properties into resilient, organic landscapes founded on healthy soils. We partnered with eight organizations, paired funding from the city with three grants, and enlisted help from 25 dedicated volunteers to install starter organic lawns, vegetable gardens, rain gardens, or native pollinators at each site.

The program launched on March 1 with the goal of having 100 properties apply to take part. Despite three snowstorms that month, 430 people applied. In choosing participants, we first made sure to capture a diversity of sites – both in terms of geography and site type – and then we clustered applications together and chose properties from a hat.


The South Portland Sustainability Department is giving out free landcare calendars. Residents can pick them up at the Community Center, city hall or the planning and development building while supplies last. Courtesy image

Thanks to the host of people involved – from participants to volunteers, organizational partners, and local businesses – we established 30 new vegetable gardens and sowed nearly 250 native plants. Perhaps even more significantly, we connected community members together.

If you took part in the program, you know how special it was. If you were not selected or missed signing up – we want to let you know that we will be working over the winter to shape and seek funding for a similar program to follow next year. Please stay tuned.

One last thing – we want to share this beautiful landcare calendar, designed by incredibly talented women. We are giving them out to residents for free. Please stop by the library, Community Center, city hall, or the planning and development building to pick one up while supplies last.

Our Sustainable City is a recurring column in the Sentry intended to provide residents with news and information about sustainability initiatives in South Portland. Follow the Sustainability Office on Instagram @soposustainability.

Julie Rosenbach is sustainability director for South Portland. She can be reached at

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