Jim and Ann Lankford raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on their farm near Martinsville, Ind. But Ann makes sure they raise more than just those crops and livestock. She’s avid about helping bring back monarch butterflies and does her part every year.
Lankford grows milkweed, among other vegetative plants, in her flower garden behind the house. Milkweed is the only species that monarch larvae will feed upon while developing.
“They can strip the leaves in a hurry if you have enough monarch larvae around,” Lankford says. “It’s their food source, and there aren’t as many milkweed plants growing in fields or other natural areas as there once was. They’re attracted to the milkweed plants that I grow.”
Lankford doesn’t stop there. She’s developed nothing short of a hatchery for monarch butterflies right on her screened-in back porch. The larvae pupate and form a cocoon. Then, when the time is right, they hatch, and fledgling monarch butterflies emerge.
Lankford typically hatches them in cage-like structures with netting on the porch. Once she’s sure they can fend for themselves, she releases them outside, letting them do what monarch butterflies do — fly and flutter and show off their wings.
Passionate about nature
Butterflies aren’t the only thing Lankford is passionate about. Until recently, she also grew gourds behind her house. In fact, she grew so many gourds over the years that she still has a supply of dry gourds in the garage.
“I like to be creative, and I taught myself how to paint gourds,” she says. “Painting birds or scenes with birds on the gourds are my favorites.”
Her work became so popular that at one time it was featured on one of the TV network shopping channels. Today, she still offers gourds and other crafts for sale through the store she owns with her daughter Debbie Myers. Berries and Ivy is a home decor store with crafty items in downtown Martinsville.
The pandemic kept Lankford out of the store for part of 2020, but it didn’t keep her from pursuing her passions. She applied for and successfully received a Bayer America’s Farmers Grow Communities grant, awarded last October. Administered through the Morgan County Community Foundation, the grant will allow her neighbor Tracy Hunter to grow more milkweed to support more monarch butterflies at Hunter’s Honey Farm. It will also help him enhance the educational tour he offers to visitors.
Lankford knows that nature isn’t always kind. In 2008, 10 inches of rain in one evening produced unprecedented flooding along the creek where they live. They were in the epicenter of what came to be known in Indiana as the Flood of ’08.
She recalls that they had water in places they had never seen it before. Nevertheless, they survived, and the farm survived as well. Ironically, her husband was honored by Indiana Prairie Farmer and the Purdue University College of Agriculture as a Master Farmer that same year.
“Working with nature is part of what we do on the farm,” Lankford says. “It’s certainly more enjoyable to do things like encouraging nature through projects like planting milkweeds and nurturing butterflies.”