Nurturing Our Pollinators and Natural Spaces: The Sustainability Scholars’ Pollinator Project

The ideas and viewpoints expressed in the posts on the Ideas and Creations blog are solely the view of the author(s). Luther College's mission statement calls us to "embrace diversity and challenge one another to learn in community," and to be "enlivened and transformed by encounters with one another, by the exchange of ideas, and by the life of faith and learning." Alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends of the college are encouraged to express their views, model "good disagreement" and engage in respectful dialogue.

The following post is one in a series to recognize Luther's celebration of Climate Justice Week which is scheduled for April 18-24, 2021.

When I first stepped onto the Luther campus, the first thing to catch my attention was the expanses of natural spaces. I remember walking through Anderson Prairie and appreciating the buzz of insects, the dance of songbirds, and the sway of prairie grasses in the wind. I was delighted to have access to areas such as these to walk through and explore, although I had no clue about how rare areas like these actually are today in Iowa. More importantly, I didn’t even consider how areas like these, especially prairie wetlands and oak savannas, had covered almost the entire state just a few generations ago.

Native Prairies and Pollinator Populations

Aside from the obvious benefits of having natural areas to walk in and explore, Luther has taught me how important native prairies are in supporting pollinator populations. In an era in which 93% of Iowa land use is dedicated to agriculture and pastures, preserving areas that can support native insect populations has never been more important. In economic terms, pollinators account for about $34 billion in ecological services to the agriculture industry. Without pollinators, agriculture simply would not be possible.

I, along with many other Luther students, have been inspired by our college’s efforts to protect pollinators. For example, Luther is home to the endangered rusty patched bumble bee, in addition to a variety of other pollinating beetles, butterflies, moths, and native bees. Most of these insects depend on prairie grasses and flowers for their food, in addition to many of them using stems to hibernate. Without the plantings that Luther and Decorah have established, many of these species would likely disappear from the area.

Student-Led Pollinator Garden

As a student at Luther, I believe I have a responsibility to contribute to our campus and our community. Luther is already a leader in land stewardship, but I think that students should play a more active role in understanding and protecting our natural areas. That’s one goal of the Luther College Sustainability Scholars, a group of students who, with the aid of faculty, learn more about leadership in sustainability at Luther, and conduct projects to improve the college’s relationship with the environment.

As a year-long project, the other sophomore Sustainability Scholars and I are establishing a student-led pollinator garden in the site of a past student-led garden called “Sunnyside,” which over time has become overgrown with invasive species. Inspired by areas such as the Sampson-Hoffland rain garden, we hope this area can become an area of education for the Luther community, in addition to being an important resource for native pollinators.

Our effort to revitalize this area has come with some important lessons and questions that apply in a greater sense to being stewards of the earth. How can we ensure that this space is cared for after we’re gone? How can we maximize the benefit for students, faculty, the Decorah community, and our greater ecological community?

While our initial goal with this project was to provide another space for pollinators, I think the greater purpose is to teach ourselves and others about the importance of responsible stewardship of the land. As humanity continues to damage ecosystems with unsustainable practices, we have a responsibility to give back, both for our own good, and that of our ecological neighbors.

The sophomore Sustainability Scholars hope that this project will inspire others in our community to pursue similar projects. It has been an incredible experience to learn about the process of restoring pollinator-friendly areas, and would not have been possible without the expertise and assistance of Luther faculty members. Now, I hope that we can help teach and assist others in becoming stewards of the land, and spread the knowledge that our ecosystem needs to return to its former abundance.

A honey bee (Apis mellifera) collecting pollen from a native White Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) in the Sampson-Hoffland rain garden.

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