More studies continue to confirm that the loss of pollinators around the globe has the ability to threaten the world’s food supply.
A report released by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services this past winter warned that without an international effort, an increasing number of pollinators face extinction.
The bees, birds, moths, butterflies and other pollinators that contribute to the world’s food supply of fruits, vegetables, nuts and plants need help. A one-acre plot of wildflowers won’t solve the problem, but education has the ability to change the tide.
That, as much as anything, is what a new project on the Alexandria Area High School grounds is all about.
“We wanted to incorporate education value to this,” Alexandria’s Josh Schafer says. “We set up booths. We have a beekeeper, some plant identification and the FFA has some games going on with the kids.”
Schafer is part of the Douglas County Pheasants Forever chapter that was awarded a $2,500 grant to plant a pollinator garden in the area.
Then came the task of finding where to plant it. Schafer said those he talked to within the school district were quick to agree this would be a good chance to partner with PF and plant the garden on the southeast property by the high school as a hands-on learning experience for students.
“Part of this putting the plot in is we want to benefit the pollinators, the bees, the butterflies, but it’s also part of providing habitat for the wildlife,” Schafer said. “We wanted to team up with the school and get them involved. I was able to get in contact with Jeff Pokorney’s FFA class. We’ve got them working with this and we wanted to bring in some of the younger kids.”
Pokorney, an ag teacher at AAHS, was thrilled when Schafer contacted him to gauge his interest.
“That was something that I wanted on our grounds,” Pokorney said. “We didn’t have the options at Jefferson High School. When we moved here, I saw potential to have it but just hadn’t gotten it done and so the help from the Pheasants Forever was fantastic. I’m going to be a better teacher by having it there.”
It will be an opportunity to get more hands-on learning for kids. Pokorney said students in his classes will use it for prairie studies to identify flowers and plant structure. They’ll sweep it for insects and organize them by family. Then they will try to make the connection with how prairie assists agriculture.
“I think by doing it hands on, you simply remember,” Pokorney said. “You remember the things that you do. We can talk prairie grasses, and I can show them a picture of it. But to go out and actually collect the data, use a magnifying glass to look at different parts of the plant and take it back and research it to see what it is, then you remember it. It’s that full process of doing that instead of just being told what a plant is. It should be lifelong memory.”
That hands-on experience was already under way last week when about 15 to 20 young kids were at the site to help plant the garden on June 1.
Pheasants Forever and Pokorney both said they would like to team up to manage the garden with things like weed control, and controlled burns when needed in the future.
With the grant approval from PF came certain stipulations; including making sure the right mix of seed was planted to ensure different flowers are in bloom at different parts of the summer season. Once the planting was complete last Wednesday, the kids scattered to other stations; one with identification cards that showed them the kinds of flowers that will bloom.
HONEY BEES A BIG DRAW
Perhaps the most popular attraction for the kids came at the honey bee exhibit that beekeeper Burt Scripture brought from his home near Motley. Scripture interacted with the kids and answered all sorts of questions about the bugs.
“I want them to realize that there’s a place for all the bugs. There’s a reason for all the bugs, pollinators especially, because they pollinate the plants to make our food,” Scripture said. “That’s the general idea, and I think kids are getting some of the basics at least.”
Scripture, age 69, has had bees for more than 40 years. Today, he has 96 hives with as many as 60,000 bees in each colony. They help pollinate the fruit trees, alfalfa and basswood trees within about a 25-mile radius from his home.
Scripture knows firsthand how fragile the bees can be. He’s had winters with 100 percent survival and others where his entire population has been wiped out.
“And everything in between,” he said. “When we get the mites in there, if they get ahead of you in the late fall you’ll have problems. Apparently that’s what happened to me last fall. I’ve had basically the entire operation wiped out. Then you start over.”
The United States Department of Agriculture says pollination by managed honey bee colonies adds at least $15 billion of annual value to the country’s agriculture through increased yields and superior harvest quality.
The honey bee has been especially vulnerable since 2006 with a syndrome called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). The USDA lists four major factors threatening the health of the honey bee – parasites and pests, pathogens, poor nutrition, and exposure to pesticides.
An acre garden won’t solve a serious plight with pollinators, but it’s a positive step for the students at AAHS in continuing the educational process.
“It’s a wonderful start,” Scripture said. “Any time you can get kids started in the right direction is a good thing and well worth it.”