Pollinators, both native and domestic, are key to the continued productivity of many agricultural crops as well as the health and beauty of our landscapes. In addition, healthy pollinator habitat can enhance soil health and fertility, improve water quality, control agricultural pests and support wildlife populations. However, pollinator populations are in decline because of disease, parasites, exposure to pesticides, loss of forage to herbicide use, and degradation of food sources.
Humans can help mitigate these stresses for pollinators by enhancing the number and diversity of flowering plants in the environment. In 2014, the community of Conrad, Montana, spurred on by the vision of JoAnn Cobb of the Pondera Medical Center (PMC), converted a vacant lot behind the PMC into a pollinator-friendly garden burgeoning with life. With funding from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) through the Pondera County Conservation District, Cobb and others were able to create a spacious garden that has become not only an oasis of blooming plants, but also an opportunity to educate on the importance of pollinators, teach elementary students about gardening, and foster interaction between the residents at PMC and visitors to the garden.
This garden provides a host of benefits. The blooming plants replace a vacant lot with a source of food for birds and insects, a green space for nursing home residents to spend time, a means to grow food for the nursing home, and a venue for educational outreach to the elementary students of Conrad. Bit by bit, projects like this boost the health of pollinator populations by expanding and improving their habitat. Our food and ecosystems rely on pollinators to function properly. This project directly helps pollinators perform those services but—perhaps more importantly—it also educates others and potentially inspires them to take action of their own to address the problems that pollinators face.