Jennings County Soil and Water District’s director traveled around the community last week inspecting the fruits of his and others’ labor with pollinators, and was pleased with the results.

While checking the Pollinator Patch at the edge of the Vernon Commons Park, Andy Ertel said he noticed about 20 times the amount of monarch butterflies at the park than before.

Ertel and others have been engaged in a project to bolster habitat conditions for pollinators for two years. Pollinators are necessary for the growth of one-third of the food humans eat. Without pollinators, most flowers and plants would not exist. Honey bees are proficient pollinators, but others include monarch butterflies, hummingbirds and some insects.

“This is the first full growing season for many of our projects, and I have to admit that I never thought it would go this far or be this successful. It just kept getting bigger because so many people in the community got involved. That’s what did it,” Ertel said.

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Completed and projected community pollinator projects now include pollinator plant patches at:

  • Eco Park
  • Tripton Park
  • Calli Nature Preserve
  • Selmier State Forest
  • North Vernon City Park
  • Vernon Commons
  • Muscatatuck County Park
  • Muscatatuck Urban Training Center
  • Every school in the county
  • Industrial sites
  • County fairgrounds
  • Walmart

The community’s pollinator project includes educational projects at schools and community organizations, and billboards and educational signs about pollinators at sites across the county. The project also sponsors a plant sale and helps residents start their own pollinator gardens.

Helping pollinating insects has drawn widespread support on the state and national levels. Native Hoosier Karen Pence, the wife of Vice President and Columbus native Mike Pence, is leading a new national campaign to help pollinators.

“One out of every three bites of food taken in this country is made possible with the help of pollinators,” Karen Pence told the media at the June 2017 ceremony dedicating a beehive to house 20,000 bees on the grounds of the vice president’s home in Washington, D.C.

Karen Pence’s interest in the pollinator problem began as early as 2014 when Mike Pence served as Indiana’s governor. She installed a beehive at the governor’s mansion.

The work to help pollinators thrive in Jennings County began in late 2015 after President Barack Obama directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies to begin a public awareness campaign to bring attention to the sudden depletion of the pollinator population across the nation.

The Obama administration the USDA announced a “Share Some Space” campaign designed to encourage citizens to grow the flowers and plants necessary for pollinators to thrive.

Ertel and his administrative assistant, Kelly Kent, already had began studying the pollinator problem when, in 2016, all 92 county soil and water conservation districts in Indiana were encouraged to start a pollinator project for the “Share Some Space” campaign.

Though there was no money allocated in the office budget for the project, with the help of the Burpee Seed Company, Ertel and Kent began planting pollinator healthy flowers and plants across Jennings county. Residents volunteered to help and a committee named the Jennings County Community Pollinator Project was formed. Soon local Industries, businesses, civic organizations and schools became involved.

Last March, the USDA National Conservationist Service selected the Jennings County Community Pollinator Project as the winner of the National Earth Team award.

“The pollinator project has always been a grassroots program. When someone like Mrs. Pence gets involved, it really helps the national awareness, but I have to say that I think the best part of our project here in Jennings County is that the whole community really got involved with this thing and made it grow,” Ertel said.