Pollinators are insects or animals that move pollen from one flower to another…but did you know that 1 out of every 3 bites we consume comes from food that has been grown with the helping hand of a pollinator? That about 75% of our agricultural crops depend on pollinators such as bees, bats, wasps, flies, moths, hummingbirds, and butterflies? That without pollinators, we would lose many of our favorite foods?
As a Student Conservation Association (SCA) intern at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I had the opportunity of putting together a pollinator exhibit booth at the local Whole Foods in Hadley, MA during Earth Day on April 22nd. I couldn’t have done it without the help and guidance of many others, and it was a success! On a cold, cloudy Saturday, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Visitor Services Coordinator, Chelsi Burns, and I spoke to about 75 visitors, many of whom came into the Whole Foods classroom where we had numerous activities set up from 11-2pm.
The goal of this project was to engage children and adults alike in a hands-on activity that will get them thinking about pollinators, make them aware of the importance of pollinators, and show what they themselves can do to help some pollinator species of concern. Reading is an important tool across all ages, and on one side of the giveaway bookmark, there is an intricate black and white (pollinator related) design, and the other side has facts about pollinators , and what you can do to help. I received three very diverse art submissions on top of having one that I drew, and I left some bookmarks blank for the little artists out there who wanted to do their own designs. One of the submissions was even from local art student, Amy Hambrecht, who currently attends the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
I also had an interactive PowerPoint with questions and facts about pollinators. Monarch butterflies, a pollinator, lay their eggs on milkweed, but much of milkweed has been lost due to pesticides and herbicides. Monarch caterpillars are specialists, which means they solely rely on one food source, milkweed. There were milkweed and dwarf sunflower seed packets, as well as very detailed instructions on how to plant milkweed. Milkweed plants undergo a process called vernalization/stratification, which means they sprout faster after they have cooled.
At the Whole Foods event on Earth Day, there were bumble bee posters, bumble bee “Save the Pollinators” stickers, and garden books to peruse through. There were numerous families with kids, a large college group, and a couple of older individuals who came in to enjoy the coloring fun and ask some questions. We had a very diverse audience and a wide range of ages of individuals who were really inquisitive about what they could do to help. Seemed like there was something for everyone!
Pollinators annually contribute billions of dollars to the U.S. food economy supply, and without them, we wouldn’t have so many of delicious foods we eat today. Apples? Nope.. Carrots, blueberries, avocados, chocolate, wine, coffee? No way! Thanks to our pollinator friends, we have all of these foods available to us, so a huge shout out to them. The Rusty patched bumble bee population has declined 87% and Monarch Butterflies by 90% from 1990. Their population numbers have drastically declined due to pesticides and loss of habitat/food sources, so it is time for us to take action and show our appreciation by helping them out! Listed below are a few ways how:
1.) Bee a proactive gardener and plant native plants native to YOUR area. Include a diversity of plants that also bloom during different seasons, so that pollinators have an abudance of food sources. If you are unsure about a specific plant, you can always reference http://www.plants.usda.gov.
2.) Avoid or reduce your use of pesticides.
3.) If you do not have the yard space, you can always create a window box.
4.) Reduce the number of Invasive species.
5.) Get involved in your community, spread all the buzz about pollinators with friends!