Raising awareness with aplomb

Last night, I was invited to speak about our farm at one of the local Garden Clubs. In the South, a Garden Club is a proper noun. And, while they engage in service and support various causes, it is infrequent that they actually get their hands dirty in the art and science of gardening.

So, it was a breath of fresh air to have an audience that was so receptive to what I had to show and say.

While they took care of club business and socialized, they shared with me a piece of vanilla raspberry cake with a thick fondant and a cup of coffee, on matching china with a mauve border. I was afraid I would drop the coffee cup and it would shatter into a thousand pieces.

Then I presented.

After an update on the garden, I launched into my own PSA (public service announcement).

Perhaps you’ve heard of what the New York Times describes as an “insect armageddon.” This may seem like sensationalism, but hear me out. An entomological society in Germany has found that local populations of flying insects have declined by some 75% in the past three decades. Given that North America is more similar than not to German in terms of industrialization and resource use, it would seem that we have probably experienced similar declines. This can be anecdotally corroborated by observations that we make after hours of driving on the highways – these days, it seems there are hardly any bugs plastered on the windshields anymore. And I do seem to remember, as a kid in the backseat of the station wagon, seeing numerous bugs splattering wherever we went, as well as an insect-ridden front grill.

I wanted to come prepared when talking to this group of ladies, so I did a little more digging in the cyber ether, and found that, a couple of years ago, Yale University supported a study showing similar worldwide declines in the Lepidoptera order (butterflies and moths), and even sharper losses in other invertebrates. Crucially, the author makes a link between this somewhat abstract interpretation, and some concrete warnings that we’ve been hearing about for at least a decade or more – the falling populations of honeybees and monarch butterflies.

Fellow blogger, the entomologist Simon Leather, wrote an excellent post about all this when it was breaking news.

Back to the Garden Club – I let them know, in no uncertain terms, that I was not there to say “shame on us all,” just simply to bring this compelling trend to their attention, and to describe what I was doing to mitigate it. I concluded by showing them my work with native legumes (if you’ve gotten this far in this post, you are probably aware of my ongoing fascination with native legumes), and how these legumes support native insects and other fauna.

The meeting ended well. They were grateful, I was grateful, the meeting was adjourned, and we all departed, going our separate ways to our homes and families.

What is to become of the insects?

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