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Midwest Schools Still Helping Pollinators
Minnesota Ag Connection - 05/22/2020

Pollination needs to happen even amid a pandemic. Despite school closures, a group of teachers and their students are helping imperiled insect pollinators and Monarch butterflies.

Earlier this year, 28 high school agriculture and science educators in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin received pollinator habitat grants from Sand County Foundation. Each was to receive 600 tiny native wildflower seedlings this spring that students would grow in their school's greenhouse and later plant on school or farm properties. Despite the sudden hurdle of school closings, more than half of the teachers have found a way to proceed with the project.

"It's helped keep some semblance of things on course despite everything else going on," said Ann Perry, a teacher at charter high school in Eagle River, Wisconsin. "It's one of the very few things that my students have been able to hold on to that hasn't been postponed or cancelled."

"Some teachers have repotted the plants in their homes to continue growing to a size that can be planted outdoors. Another school sent plants home with families at their school lunch distribution site," reports Craig Ficenec, Sand County Foundation program director. "We applaud their creativity and commitment."

"Agriculture and science students are still learning during a unique time in education, while creating native wildflower diversity for pollinators," Ficenec added. "We're pleased to see schools moving ahead with this popular program, even in a modified form in 2020."

Essential for crop pollination and ecological diversity, the numbers of wild bees and monarch butterflies have dropped, partly because of the loss of native wildflower habitat near farmland.

To qualify for pollinator habitat grants, educators needed greenhouses or suitable indoor growing areas to raise seedlings of milkweed, prairie blazing star, wild bergamot, and other species. They also identified a location to transplant these native wildflowers. Each recipient received a $1,000 grant for the school district or FFA chapter to offset project expenses.

Sand County Foundation is a national non-profit that champions voluntary conservation practices by farmers and ranchers to improve soil, water and wildlife habitat. Sponsors of the pollinator habitat grant program include: Enel Green Power North America Inc., Syngenta, We Energies Foundation, Bayer Crop Science, Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, Iowa Corn Growers Association and Dairyland Power Cooperative

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