By YES! Coordinator Winston Pennington-Flax
Late last fall, after a news story surfaced that monarch butterflies may be absent from Minnesota’s landscape in as few as ten years, the students of the Alexandria Area High School YES! team saw a major problem in our ecosystem as well as an opportunity to create positive change in their school and community. Fast forward to late winter, and the group has gotten the ball rolling to build and restore this habitat on school grounds, and hosted a YES! Winter Workshop titled “Restoring Minnesota’s Pollinator Landscape.”
On February 27th, 35 students from the local YES! team, Landscape Design courses, and the FFA got together to learn strategies for implementing plant and landscape elements to provide habitat for dwindling species of butterflies and bees that are crucial to our local food production and prairie health. Students began the day by hearing from YES! coordinator Winston Pennington-Flax, who offered background on the problems that insects are facing in Minnesota and worldwide, as well as some of the steps that students can take to take to change this trajectory, including the screening of an engaging TED talk from Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota Bee Lab.
Students then heard from Diane and Stephen Henry, University of Minnesota Douglas County Master Gardeners, who offered an overview of Minnesota species and the garden and farm features that can support them, tying it all back into the health and viability of our region’s land for farmers, hunters, and all others alike. Gene Stark from Glacial Ridge Growers, a commercial producer of these very plants, offered some background on the process of starting such a garden habitat, and even brought along a tray of Purple Coneflower seedlings and catalogs to view.
In the second half of the event, students moved into small groups in the school’s atrium, and, after having some time to digest materials provided by the Xerces Society and discuss the facts about pesticides, honeybees, and prairies, began the process of creating a vision statement for their garden as well as short and long-term goals for its growth, from planting milkweed in planter boxes to constructing a greenhouse and holding plant sales to support the garden. Students identified some of their assets, such as the recent school board approval of a school garden plan and local resources and experts, as well as some potential roadblocks, including the need for funding and care for the garden over the summer.
At the end of the day, students left with a deeper understanding of the issues as well as a clearer idea of what they want out of the garden, including wholesome food, peace and relaxation, and learning opportunities across departments. Though the process will not be immediate, it is clear that when the AAHS garden gets growing, it will be brimming with blooms and bugs!