By Doug Schmitz
MADISON, Wis. – Sand County Foundation is awarding pollinator habitat grants to agriculture and science programs at 21 high schools in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Each school district or FFA chapter will receive prairie seeds and seedlings, a consultation, and $1,000 to support project expenses.
“Students will germinate and grow native plants in late winter, and plant them outside in the spring as an experiential learning opportunity,” said Haley Diem, Sand County Foundation school grant program coordinator.
“Insect pollinators are essential for crop pollination and ecological diversity,” she added. “In recent years, their numbers are low, partly due to loss of native wildflower habitat, especially in the agricultural landscape. We encourage applicants to partner with landowners to establish pollinator habitat on agricultural and other working lands.”
Headquartered in Madison, Sand County Foundation is a national non-profit that “champions voluntary conservation practices by farmers, ranchers and forestland owners to improve soil, water and wildlife habitat.”
Pollinator habitat grant program sponsors include Syngenta, Enel North America, Monarch Joint Venture, U.S. Forest Service International Programs, Wisconsin Public Service Foundation and We Energies Foundation.
“We’re honored to support this important program and are grateful for the Sand County Foundation’s work to engage high schoolers in developing pollinator habitats,” said Jesse Puckett, director of sustainability projects and community affairs for Enel North America, Inc., in Andover, Mass.
In Illinois, there were three high schools selected for the award funds: Brownstown High School, Brownstown; Eisenhower High School, Decatur; and Libertyville High School, Libertyville.
Cassie Perrin, agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at Brownstown High School, said, “This award means our school will play a large role in the pollinator program. Our goal is to not only educate our community about the pollinators in our area, but to also help them thrive in the environment we build them.
“Our FFA program is currently in the process of building our own beehive that is housed on school grounds,” she added. “Our hive will be positively impacted by the addition of these plants to our campus.”
She said students are currently learning about the plant and animal species as a part of this program in class.
“In the next few weeks, we will germinate the seeds in our agricultural shop, thanks to the support of our community for the donation of grow lights,” she said. “We will then use these plant species as part of our sensory gardens at both the high school and elementary school,” she added. “These areas will be a useful teaching tool for all grades.”
In Michigan, Clarkston High School in Clarkston; and Ravenna High School in Ravenna, were awarded grants.
Melanie Block, agriscience teacher and FFA advisor at Ravenna High School, said, “My students and I are so excited to receive this award because we have been working with bees for the past two years. We are excited to create habitat for our bees and other pollinators here on our school’s campus with the plants we are able to raise in our school greenhouse.”
She said, “Our project will be used to create a large pollinator garden on our high school campus, which is also the site of our school’s apiary (collection of beehives).
“We will use this garden to bring in elementary and middle school students, along with community members to educate them about the importance of pollinators,” she added. “The funds will be used to raise plants, purchase signage and add to our garden.”
In Iowa, five high schools were awarded grants: South Winneshiek Community School, Calmar; Lynnville-Sully High School, Lynnville-Sully; Manson Northwest Webster Junior/High School, Manson; Stanton Community Schools, Stanton; and Underwood High School, Underwood.
Doug Gaul, agricultural education instructor and FFA advisor at Manson Northwest Webster Junior/High School, said, “This is a great opportunity to do an activity that we had been discussing doing for a few years. The biology teacher, student council and I had discussed doing a pollinator garden, but it got put off with running out of time and maybe expertise to do it.
“This grant has put it on the front burner and given us the knowledge to feel confident in what we are doing,” he added. “The resources provided have been great as we get the seed and other materials needed, which has saved the time of researching what to plant and how to get it all set up. This means that we are taking this from a plan to a reality in a very short period of time.”
He said the award funds will be used to put in a pollinator garden on school grounds adjacent to the FFA chapter’s crop field.
“The grant included seeds and planting materials, and had funds that will be used to purchase equipment and supplies that will allow us to install and maintain this garden,” he said. “The garden will provide habitat for native pollinators, but also will provide students access to it, which has applications in many classes including biology, earth science, environmental science, crop science, and horticulture.
“Through this, we can do labs and activities that will allow students to better understand the diminishing level of pollinators, and their importance to crops and the environment,” he added.
Andrea Spencer, agricultural educator and FFA advisor at Stanton Community High School, said, “Our chapter is honored and excited to receive this award. We are very excited to be able to use this to benefit our community and our native pollinators.”
She said the award funds will be used to purchase supplies needed for stratifying (classifying) the seeds and supplies needed in the greenhouse for growing out the seedlings. Funds will also be applied toward any needs there may be in establishing the native seedlings.
“We plan on partnering with a local landowner in our area to plant the native forbs (flowering, non-grassy ‘herbaceous’ plants, which produce seeds) within an agricultural landscape for the benefit of native bees, honey bees, and monarch butterflies,” she said.
“Any FFA member is welcome to help with the project,” she added. “At this time, the project is the responsibility of our conservation science class. It seemed a good fit for this class where we cover conservation efforts, and what it means to protect and sustain native species.”
She said, “It is also a great way to have hands-on learning in the area of plant science from stratification and germination, all the way to preparing the land for transplant and monitoring plant health in the new landscape.
She added, “We have students that are considering using this as their agriscience research at various levels of the process. The research process gives students an opportunity to have a work-based learning project/Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE).
“The class has begun the cold/wet stratification process and can’t wait to begin planting in a few weeks,” she said. “I believe we are all looking forward to spending some time in the school greenhouse and thinking about spring.”
Other Midwest high school agricultural programs awarded grants are in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
In Minnesota, Alexandria Area High School, Alexandria; Bertha-Hewitt Public School, Bertha; Duluth East High School, Duluth; Hutchinson High School, McLeod; and Thomas Edison High School, Minneapolis, won grants.
In Wisconsin, Cambridge High School, Cambridge; Ozaukee High School, Fredonia; Independence High School, Independence; Indian Trail High School & Academy, Kenosha; Sauk Prairie High School, Prairie du Sac; and Waupun Area Junior & Senior High School, Waupun, won grants.