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RED WING -- One of the Sustainability Commission’s goals for 2021 is to increase pollinator habitat and promote healthy green spaces. As a part of these goals, the commission will plant a pollinator lawn demonstration in Featherstone Park. This demonstration will feed local pollinators and act as a learning tool for those interested in planting their own garden. 

Commissioners appeared before the Red Wing City Council during the Aug. 9 meeting. Chair Michael Johnson told the council, “We’re here tonight to raise awareness of a problem that has been developing for a long time; it is a national problem, it is a global problem and it’s a small problem with huge consequences and it affects every aspect of the food chain on which we all depend. That problem is that we are losing insect species.” 

According to Johnson, since data began to be collected in the mid 1970s, approximately 9% of global insect species are lost every decade. 

Aiding global pollinators is not achievable by one community. However, the Sustainability Commission wants to support local pollinators and inspire others to plant pollinator habitats. 

Along with pollinating plants that are vital for ecosystems (not least because they play a key role in growing food for people) bugs are important because they are critical food sources for many birds, including the beloved hummingbird. 

Purdue University’s Extension program explains, “Insects are underappreciated for their role in the food web. They are the sole food source for many amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.”

Min MartinOakes is also a member of the Sustainability Commission and has been working on this project. She spoke to the educational impact of this project saying, “I really see this pollinator demonstration project as an engagement tool and a teaching tool. What a great way to teach people that you could do this in your own yard.” 

Both MartinOakes and Johnson stressed that a household does not need to convert an entire yard to a pollinator garden to help local insects. Gardens of all sizes and shapes can aid the pollinators. 

Q&A with Michael Johnson 

After appearing before the City Council, Johnson answered a few questions for the Republican Eagle. 

What is the goal of the pollinator garden? 

The goal of this demonstration project is to provide a learning opportunity for folks interested in an option with more ecological value than our familiar bluegrass lawns.

What is the planned timeline for this project? 

We plan to prep and seed the site this October. Watering will begin in spring 2022, and continue at a decreasing rate as the lawn matures. Our goal is to have informational signage installed on site containing a QR code accessible by smartphone device, which people may use to acquire further information.

What should readers know about the project? How can they learn about pollinator gardens to plant their own gardens? 

Those interested will be able to learn more about the project as it develops by checking in with Red Wing city social media sites as well as information on channel 6.

What was the inspiration for working on this project?

This project was inspired by the development of one such lawn, started by property owners during the spring/summer of 2020. The book “Nature’s Best Hope,” written by Douglas Tallamy, professor of entomology and ecology at the University of Delaware, provided additional motivation. Tallamy’s message is that due to an ongoing loss of local native plants, those native insects and dependent vertebrates which have all evolved together are losing numbers and presence as well.

The state is also providing financial support for such projects through the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, called the “Lawns to Legumes program.”

How big will the garden be? Who will care for it?

The initial size of this pollinator lawn site will be approximately 1,400 square feet. It is our hope to edge this site with native perennials during the spring/summer of 2022. Our committee is also developing proposals for a small arboretum of native trees and shrubs that host the greatest numbers of insects (naturally including pollinators). We are also considering the possibility of a small demonstration rain garden, as well as a deep rooted prairie grass demonstration site. Deep rooted prairie grasses are an effective, natural means of sequestering carbon.

What are the three proposed phases? 

All phases of this project beyond the pollinator lawn component will require further planning and presentation to the City Council for approval. Our hope is to complete these phases by 2024. The cost for developing the pollinator lawn project should come in at about $500-$600, with some outside contribution anticipated. Further costs will be determined as planning continues.

What else should people know about this project? 

The purpose of this project is to provide rationale and information for city residents interested in developing sustainable personal green spaces that provide improved habitat for those native plants, insects, and vertebrates on which so much other life depends.

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