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Efforts to Help Pollinators, Monarchs Taking Root

BEAVER DAM, Wisc. – On the last day of school, a group of Beaver Dam High School freshmen had one more assignment to finish. Joined by their agri-science and natural resources classmates, they deboarded a bus at a local farm armed with trays of wildflowers.

It was their way of contributing to a national effort to provide habitat for imperiled insect pollinators and monarch caterpillars.

Essential for crop pollination and ecological diversity, insect pollinators are at risk partly due to loss of farmland habitat. Likewise, monarch caterpillars and butterflies face a severe shortage because of the scarcity of their sole food source, native milkweed. National Pollinator Week (June 17-23) was created to raise awareness.

After discussing this scenario in class, the Beaver Dam students transplanted and grew a mix of native wildflowers and milkweed in their school greenhouse before planting them on June 5. Their high school was among 22 in Wisconsin and Minnesota that received pollinator habitat grants from Sand County Foundation.

“There are many efforts afoot to provide habitat. Our program’s niche is that it involves agricultural and science students with farmers,” said Craig Ficenec, program director for Sand County Foundation, a national non-profit that champions voluntary conservation practices by farmers and ranchers to improve soil health, water quality and wildlife habitat.

“There are efforts to plant milkweed and pollinator-friendly flowers on public lands and urban gardens, but our focus is the huge potential to reintroduce the plants to Midwestern farms,” Ficenec said. “Most agricultural crops rely on pollinators, so their presence provides ecological benefits and economic gain in rural areas.”

An estimated one billion milkweed plants are needed to support a sustainable monarch breeding range and migration, primarily in the Midwest.

Corn and soybean farmers, Charlie Hammer and Nancy Kavazanjian, are doing their part by providing land for the Beaver Dam High School project. Students will return to the farm this summer to water the plants, and plant additional milkweed and native grasses.

The new pollinator patch, located near a solar array that generates the farm’s electricity, wasn’t being used for crop production. Kavazanjian said it made sense to return this small piece of ground back to its native roots. Ficenec agrees, saying under-utilized pockets of land on farms are ideal areas to encourage pollinator and monarch habitat.

Sand County Foundation’s pollinator habitat grant program supplies 600 seedlings of five native wildflower species, growing materials and $1,000 grants to cover costs to high school agricultural and science departments. Teachers receive a training webinar and remote consultation from a native plant nursery. In Minnesota the grants are sponsored by Enel Green Power North America Inc. Wisconsin sponsors include We Energies Foundation, Bayer Crop Science, Syngenta, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Dairyland Power Cooperative.

For more on Sand County Foundation’s monarch and pollinator initiative, visit

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SAND COUNTY FOUNDATION inspires and enables a growing number of private landowners to ethically manage natural resources in their care, so future generations have clean and abundant water, healthy soil to support agriculture and forestry, plentiful habitat for wildlife and opportunities for outdoor recreation.


Beaver Dam High School student, Kalilah Mabry, plants a native wildflower to attract insect pollinators on a farm in Dodge County, Wisconsin.

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Beaver Dam High School students (from left) Jack Laude, Nicholas Biermann, and Jayda Grebel, establishing pollinator habitat on a Dodge County grain farm belonging to Charlie Hammer and Nancy Kavazanjian.