Upon moving to our farm, Mr. B and I agreed that we wanted to use as few chemicals as possible when it came to growing and caring for our land. The reasons for this are plenty, but perhaps there could be no better spokesman for this effort than the critter pictured here: the monarch butterfly.
While not the only butterfly to flutter about our property, its wings are certainly eye-catching. But more importantly, this seemingly delicate insect is an important barometer for the ecological health of our continent. Each fall, the butterflies travel en masse as far as 3,000 miles from Canada to Mexico to set up home for the winter, but in the past couple decades, their populations have dropped dramatically—as much as 80 percent in some areas. Scientists attribute this decline to many factors, including overuse of pesticides and herbicides, deforestation, and loss of milkweed (the only plant in which it breeds and feeds, shown in the photo below).
That’s where farms like ours come in.
As the monarchs make their fall migration south, they’ll be stopping along the way to get energy—and actually bulk up—for the road ahead. It’s one of my deepest desires to provide a safe place for these beautiful creatures, as well as many of the other wildlife that aren’t just passing through, but call our Kentucky land home. By not spraying chemicals and making our peace with the “weeds” and “pests” that spring up on our land, we’re creating an open door that says life is welcome here. We’ll give you food and a place to rest, if only you’ll just come.
We’re not even truly farming yet—and I know things will get more complicated when we do begin cultivating our gardens—but to be able to walk out onto the land and experience the buzz of bees, the rustle of goldenrod, the bright pops of milkweed and the curious stares of deer fills me with both joy and awe.
I feel blessed every time I see a monarch flitting about—or one of its caterpillars munching on milkweed—and you should, too, because their presence isn’t secure. Many researchers and citizen scientists are working to ensure this orange-and-black wonder doesn’t go extinct. You can help, too.
Be a pollinator-friendly farm by planting the native flowers where monarchs and other butterflies eat and live and avoiding the use of chemicals that kill those plants or the insects themselves. You can also help track the journey of the monarchs as they cross over the U.S. into Mexico by reporting your sightings on Journey North. This will help those studying the monarch and its population decline have a better understanding of its whereabouts and habits.
I’m glad that this year, monarchs are seeing a resurgence in their populations, and I hope this isn’t a fluke, because I look forward to hosting them again year after year as they make their seasonal migration.