AMES, Iowa – The Linn County Master Gardeners have received the Search for Excellence award for the Planting for Pollinators program. The Search for Excellence award is given annually by the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Master Gardener program.
“The awards committee was impressed by how the Linn County Master Gardeners wove their theme of pollinator education into major program efforts throughout the year,” said Denny Schrock, Master Gardener program coordinator with ISU Extension and Outreach. “These included classes on pollinators, demonstration gardens featuring pollinator plants and partnering with the Monarch Research Project and Friends of Noelridge to develop monarch and swallowtail butterfly habitat.”
With studies showing a decline in pollinators, Linn County Master Gardeners proclaimed 2016 the “Year of the Pollinator.” The group’s major events were focused on aspects of the pollinator and were geared to reach as many members of the general population as possible.
“Beginning in 2015, Master Gardeners in Linn County began to meet and brainstorm on how to support the efforts of the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium,” said Becki Lynch, Linn County Master Gardener and co-chair of the Planting for Pollinators project. “With so many Master Gardeners interested in the topic we expanded our thinking from monarchs to all pollinators. We wanted to get the word out because we were finding many people did not realize how important pollinators are to the environment.”
With their goal of creating awareness about the importance of pollinators in mind, the Master Gardeners focused each of their 2016 events around the topic. With much of the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium’s efforts focused on large landowners, the Master Gardeners targeted an audience who lived on smaller plots of land.
“Much of the managed property in the world is divided into plots of land of less than three acres,” Lynch said. “If you put together all the small property owners, they are the majority. The Master Gardener program has always focused on the homeowner and smaller landowner and we are carrying through that overall mission.”
Having the Monarch Research Project (MRP) located in Linn County provided a resource for the Linn County Master Gardeners to work with, something that proved invaluable over the course of 2016.
“Without them we would not have been able to make the progress we made in 2016,” Lynch said. “It has been an honor to work with them.”
That partnership allowed for some staggering results. In the past year, MRP and Linn County Master Gardeners were able to distribute 30,000 milkweed plugs in Linn County, with 5,500 acres of pollinator habitat being created. Partnerships with Linn County and the cities of Cedar Rapids and Marion facilitated a plan to convert an additional 1,000 acres of city and county land to pollinator habitat over the next five years.
“We are really pleased with the impact and partnerships that are being developed to beef up our pollinator habitat and to change the concept of beauty from a manicured lawn to a more natural landscape look,” Lynch said.
The group will continue its work in 2017, planning new activities and partnerships, including Coe College and Iowa BIG, to further the work it has already accomplished.