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Butterfly Sanctuary: Nisswa Elementary School students help plant a pollinator garden

First- and second-graders learn about the importance of butterfly habitat

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Bella Oscarson, with the Conservation Corps, shows Nisswa Elementary School second-graders how to plant native plants in the pollinator garden created outside the school Thursday, May 13, 2021. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

Sometimes the best education happens when you're having so much fun you don't even realize you're learning.

That may have been the case Thursday, May 13, at Nisswa Elementary School when first- and second-graders helped plant a pollinator garden in a protected courtyard area of the school.


"Monarch butterflies are on the decline. So are pollinators in general."

— Alicia Green


While having fun swatting at milkweed floating through the air, drawing a butterfly, playing a butterfly game and planting native plants, the young students learned about monarch butterflies and their habitat.

The biggest lesson organizer Alicia Green wanted to convey was the importance of providing that habitat to boost a diminishing monarch butterfly population.

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"Monarch butterflies are on the decline. So are pollinators in general," Green said, citing loss of habitat and dangerous pesticides as reasons.

Her goal is to educate people about monarchs and their needs to help bring back the population.

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Mason Green, 14, shares a lesson about milkweed with Nisswa students Thursday, May 13, 2021. Students took home their own milkweed seeds to plant. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

"We think it'd be great if we could create something where we could inspire kids and other people to create them on their own," Green said of the pollinator garden.

Two such gardens are underway in Nisswa - at the school and Lutheran Church of the Cross - with a third planned at Nisswa Lake Park. The hope is to establish 25 pollinator gardens within a 30-mile radius of Brainerd.

Paula West, who serves on the Nisswa Park Commission, and Laura Raedeke, with the Lutheran church's Creation Care Team, are excited about the partnerships to plant pollinator gardens.

The Crow Wing County Soil and Water Conservation District offered a cost-share grant for the butterfly and pollinator demonstration plots and brought Conservation Corps crews to do the hard labor May 13 at the church and school sites.

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The church plot is just off the bike path on County Road 13, where many people will be able to see it and learn about the importance of pollinators, Raedeke said. Each garden will include educational signs as well.


"We think it'd be great if we could create something where we could inspire kids and other people to create them (gardens) on their own."

— Alicia Green


The Nisswa School PTO and Nisswa Park Commission are supplementing costs, and the church received an Eco Faith Network grant from the Northeastern Minnesota Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

They also praised Green, who along with West are also part of the church's Creation Care Team.

"She is passionate about saving our beloved and life-giving pollinators," Raedeke said.

Pollinators include bees, butterflies, birds, bats, moths, flies, beetles, wasps and small mammals that visit flowers to drink nectar or feed off of pollen and transport pollen grains as they move from spot to spot.

Green became concerned about the monarch butterfly population when she noticed she wasn’t seeing as many as in the past.

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"They did find some, and her kids were so enthralled with seeing the caterpillars turn to chrysalis to monarchs," said West.

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Bella Oscarson, with the Conservation Corps in Grand Rapids, helps a Nisswa School first-grader pound a stake to hold a mat in place that will prevent weeds from growing in the pollinator garden. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal (May 2021)

Raedeke explained that a pollinator garden contains the kinds of plants butterflies need for breeding and eating. Milkweed is particularly essential because that's the only plant monarchs will use to lay eggs on, though they eat off other native plants.

"Bees and other insects carry pollen from one plant to another, which makes them grow," West said.

Raedeke stressed the importance of genuine, native plants over hybrid plants, and that the plants not be contaminated with neonicotinoids. They used grant money to buy native plants from Prairie Restoration in Princeton for the 100 square-foot garden plots.

West and Raedeke hope when the first three Nisswa pollinator gardens are established they'll be able to recruit other schools, churches and park boards to plant their own.

The Nisswa School students had a beautiful day to help create their garden. Green's three children - Mason, 14; Macayla, 10; and Mia, 8 - helped at three outdoor education stations the students rotated through.

Students each brought milkweed seeds home to plant in their own efforts to attract monarch butterflies.

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Macayla Green, 10, explains the parts of a butterfly as Nisswa School students draw the picture. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal (May 2021)

Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.

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