By many measures, individuals and the management of Columbia Heights have already done a lot to encourage monarch butterflies and other pollinators to hang out in the city. And Mayor Amáda Márquez Simula sees opportunities for even more community-building around this environmental challenge.
The Mayors’ Monarch Pledge, which Márquez Simula hopes to be part of, is a program of National Wildlife Foundation, dedicated to bringing back larger numbers of monarch butterflies. North American Monarch population has declined 90% in the east and 99% in the west in the last 20 years due to loss of summer breeding habitat in the states and over-wintering habitat in Mexico. They need milkweed, and they’re not the only pollinator that benefits from attention to keeping and re-establishing native plants.
Pollination is directly linked to 35% of our food supply, and needed to support animals that eat plants.
To qualify as a pledge city, three new tasks from a list of many, need to be completed in the first year. For context, Minnetonka got an award for doing 23 things.
A Saturday, Feb. 27 afternoon Zoom meeting on the topic was a bit like brainstorming with friends in any one of our kitchens, with an ever-changing list of 40-some folks at a time on the call, some dropping in and out as they needed to tend to their kids; the mayor with a backdrop of flags, and husband Frost at a different computer facilitating the chat.
Should there be a monarch festival? Little Free Seed Libraries? Ideas and links flew, from home gardeners to landscape architects, new and established residents, educators and other professionals who either live in the Heights or were intrigued and motivated to offer advice.
Sarah Evenson, a native-landscape architect and Heights resident, commented that an easy way to get homeowner associations to get involved with pollinators is to overseed with clover and other low flowering ground covers, mowing a little less frequently and a little higher. “Cues to care” give a nod to neatness in native gardens: Signage, a mown border, some fencing, and propping up plants from flopping over.
Various people talked of how their efforts to plant more native plants and less turf in their yards have encouraged neighbors to do the same; they compared notes on ordinances as to how “shaggy” front yards can look. A new, less prescriptive front-yard ordinance is being drafted, said Columbia Heights City Manager Kelli Burgeois.
There are several communal gardens in Heights – Blooming Sunshine Food Forest on the site of a former baseball field in Łomianki Park, plots on 40th Avenue and a Girl Scout garden on Reservoir Boulevard – which needs a border, by the way, if anyone has something to donate. Churches: First Lutheran, on 40th, and Church of All Nations, 4301 Benjamin, have interesting gardens. The Lions have gardens at 37th and Stinson. Schools: Blooming Heights edible classroom garden behind the District/Family Center on 49th needs two to three volunteers willing to work an hour or so per week through the summer.
Liam Genter, urban forestry specialist with the city, has been experimenting with pollinator-friendly turf, to see what takes hold over the summer, and eventually plans to hold classes for residents. There was discussion about cutting out pollinator-harmful insectides, herbicides and fungicides, researching better alternatives and promoting those, explaining costs. The city could set the example for homeowners.
Council Member Connie Buesgens, who has extensive native gardens on her property, commented that alternative pest control is also important for residents’ health, and pets.
Márquez Simula talked about the need for volunteers of various sorts, beyond the traditional “green thumb,” including organizers and volunteer coordinators, artists, writers, someone to photograph or do videos. Someone to make signage or instructions without words, accessible to all, to show what to do in the gardens.
There was discussion of searching for multi-cultural plants that will grow here, and being allies for underserved people, honoring and acknowledging cultures appropriately.
HeightsNEXT, an organization dedicated to building a sustainable community, has sponsored plant swaps and other environmental learning opportunities, clean-up events and movie nights. They have collected oodles of seeds waiting to be given away with a native seed exchange.
To get involved or get the link to future meetings, check out the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge Facebook page, HeightsNEXT Facebook page, columbiaheightsmn.gov website, or email AMarquezSimula@columbiaheightsmn.gov
Below: Blooming Sunshine Food Forest at Łomianki Park, off Main Street at 39th Avenue. HeightsNEXT volunteers tended fruit trees, vegetables, and pollinator-friendly flowers. This summer, they will also plant a butterfly nursery with host plants for various butterflies. Kiki Joy Latham. (Photos by Amáda Márquez Simula)