Eating for Pollinators part one

I RECENTLY JOINED A COMMUNITY SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE PROGRAM. The owner is a neighbor of mine who has a couple of greenhouses and sells his vegetables at a local farmer's market. But now he's also experimenting with the CSA idea: People like me purchase a share in his operation and, in return, we get a share of his harvest throughout the growing season. It's better for him because he has guaranteed purchasers for his produce through the whole season.

So now, instead of going to the Farmer's Market on Saturday morning, I go by John's place on Friday afternoons to pick up my produce. (That's not his real name; I'm not going to use his real name because I don't have his permission.) I don't have to drive as far, which saves on gas. John gives me a lot more vegetables than I would buy at the Farmer's Market, but that's good because it's encouraging us to eat more vegetables. (Anything we don't eat is frozen for use this winter, with all the scraps going to our voraciously vegetivorous ducks.) One of the best things about this program, however, is that John usually has time to talk, so often he gives us a short tour of the vegetable gardens and we get to chat about how things are doing. I like knowing the man who is growing my food and getting a chance to see how that food is being grown.

Today as John was showing off the pea plants that are starting to bloom, I had occasion to reflect on how important pollinators are to our food supply and, in turn, how important farmers and the people who buy food from farmers are to pollinators. The flowers that form on those vegetable plants are there, by and large, in order to attract pollinators. If the pollinators don't show up, and the flowers don't get pollinated, beans, tomatoes, and other fruits and vegetables we like to eat aren't going to show up either. Insects pollinate two thirds of all crop species!

So it's important for all of us to support farmers who grow food in ways that are good for pollinators. One of the many advantages of buying from local small farms (something I strongly encourage for all sorts of reasons) is that it gives me a chance to observe how my food is grown and encourage my farmer-neighbors to practice pollinator-friendly gardening.

In honor of National Pollinator Week, here are a couple of publications about farming for pollinators. Although they're intended for farmers, they contain many tips that could be helpful to all gardeners. One is Farming for Pollinators: Native Bees and Your Crops, published by the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Xerces Society. The other is the Xerces Society's booklet Farming for Bees: Guidelines for Providing Native Bee Habitat on Farms. If you're in a CSA or are on good terms with the sellers at your local Farmer's Market, you might want to print one of these out and share it. And if you're not in a CSA or buying regularly at your local Farmer's Market ... think about it!

Tomorrow I'll pass along some tips from these publications. In the meantime, if you'd like to know more about why it's such a good idea to "eat local" and support small farms, here's a handout I wrote for a local group that's encouraging rural Nova Scotians to help prevent global warming. (Yes, our food choices also have an impact on global climate!)

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