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Andy Ertel pointing to wildflowers
WILDFLOWERS GALORE: Jennings County, Ind., is home to an abundance of wildflowers that provide habitat for pollinators such as bees and butterflies. Andy Ertel spearheads the effort to promote these plantings.

Bring back the pollinators

Farmers and others embrace the promotion of pollinator habitat.

You won’t be able to drive very far in Jennings County, Ind., this spring without seeing brightly colored flowers. If you stop for a closer look, you’ll likely find various types of bees checking out the blossoms. You can’t even drive through North Vernon, the county seat, without seeing either clumps of colorful pollinator plants or a large patch of yellow, blue or purple flowers growing wherever there is extra space.

These wildflowers and other plants that attract pollinators aren’t there by accident. Starting in 2015 and led by the Jennings County Soil and Water Conservation District, a committee of 25 volunteers developed a plan and several projects for establishing pollinator habitat wherever and whenever possible. They’ve worked hard to implement the plan.

“We’ve got committed individuals who want to see an increase in pollinators in our community,” says SWCD employee Andy Ertel. “The way to attract them is to establish habitat which these insects prefer. It’s turned out to be a project that both rural and town people can participate in.

“We have farmers in the county who have planted pollinator plants on entire fields. Then we have schools, parks and businesses who are getting involved. We even have a permanent pollinator garden at the county fairgrounds so fairgoers can understand how important it is to provide habitat for bees and all kinds of pollinators.”

Variety of activities
Kelly Kent, who also works for the Jennings County SWCD, played a large role in establishing the demonstration plot at the county fairgrounds. Other volunteers, such as Bob Steiner, have been instrumental in persuading people to plant wildflowers in what would normally be considered urban areas. Steiner, a former SWCD employee, says he enjoys helping with the project because he believes educating people about the importance of pollinators and ways to encourage them to come back is important.

The SWCD developed what it calls the “Share Some Space” program. Schools and town parks have volunteered to plant pollinator plots, even if it is only a few plants in one location.

Businesses are getting involved, too, Ertel says. Some are planting pollinator habitat on extra land around a factory or complex. An 11-acre area is scheduled for planting at the local industrial park this spring.

Businesses can also donate money to help get plants established. “Industrial partners can donate $100, and volunteers will spray the site, prepare the seedbed, seed it and monitor it for the first year,” Ertel says. “We make no profit; we just do the work!

“Even a 1,000-square-foot area converted to pollinator habitat will feed a lot of bees, butterflies and other pollinators.”

Not everyone was on board right away, Ertel acknowledges. “Some people thought we were growing weeds,” he quips. “Once they see how pretty the areas are when plants bloom, and understand the message that we’re helping bring back pollinators which benefit everyone, most people support the idea.”

Jennings County SWCD likes to say it’s the pollinator capital of Indiana. If you want to know what it takes to replicate what they’re doing, visit jenningsswcd.org.

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