Last summer, when students in Old Town Arts & Crafts Guild’s “Green Project Runway” class watched a film about the decline of monarch butterflies due to a loss of habitat, they were angry. They were upset. And they wanted to do something to address the issue locally.
“I felt more aware of the problem because you never really think about that,” said Grace Duffy, 12, of Garden City. “I felt like I wanted to help with the butterflies.”
Late last month, children in this year’s “Green Project Runway” class planted a garden at the Cutchogue facility meant to attract the gold and black creatures, which lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed and rely on it as a primary source of nutrition. Lining both sides of the walkway at the guild’s Main Road headquarters, the small garden contains a mixture of the aforementioned milkweed, plus coneflowers, butterfly bushes and more.
The students’ efforts have already made a difference.
“Butterflies were there the day we were planting it,” said Gayle Wagner of Riverhead, who teaches “Green Project Runway” alongside her daughter, Elizabeth, and Ginger Mahoney. “It was amazing.”
To raise money for the garden, Ms. Wagner said the class of a dozen students, who range in age from 7 to 12, sold paper butterflies at the guild.
“Within the first day they had raised $90, which was amazing,” Ms. Wagner said.
Trimble’s of Corchaug Nursery in Cutchogue then provided the plants at a considerable discount, she said.
“We paid them $50 for about $150 worth of plants,” she said.
Nursery co-owner Anne Trimble said she was happy to help with the students’ project.
“Butterfly habitats are being destroyed throughout the world,” said Ms. Trimble, adding that her Main Road nursery is passionate about protecting pollinators — including butterflies, bees and hummingbirds — by encouraging homeowners to plant species native to Long Island. In addition, she said, gardeners should opt for natural methods to ward off pests.
“The herbicides are killing all the milkweed,” she said. “It’s big farming now, with no respect for the environment.”
According to the nonprofit organization The Xerces Society, the loss of milkweed can be attributed to the use of herbicides and insecticides. Overdevelopment also plays a role.
“Numerous sites have been logged and replaced with housing developments,” the society’s website states.
Now that they understand the importance of protecting vulnerable species like monarch butterflies, students at Old Town Arts & Crafts Guild hope others will be similarly inspired to plant gardens.
“It is wonderful to see the butterflies flying around the plants and drinking the nectar,” said Amelia Siar of Setauket, 9. “They’re beautiful creatures.”
Top photo: Kelsey Schimpf (from left), 6, of Mattituck, Amelia Siar, 9, of Setauket and Quinn Dolan, 10, of Cutchogue do the ribbon-cutting honors at Old Town Arts & Crafts Guild’s butterfly garden in Cutchogue July 22 as (from left) Gayle Wagner, Bob Kuhn and Ginger Mahoney watch. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)