Earth Day Q&A: Holly O’Grady

honey bee and pollinator garden
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Holly O’Grady is volunteering with the Beacon City School District to create a network of pollinator pathways. 

What is a pollinator pathway, and why is it important?
The most common planting that people would recognize is milkweed, but it can include wildflowers. The goal is to use plants and wildflowers that are indigenous to the area to attract butterflies. Rather than having miles of grass, you could have something more productive for insects and butterflies and bees. In Denmark, farmers are encouraged to plant pollinators between the road and their crops so that they’re keeping the bee population alive and giving them plenty of food. 

What are you planning with the school district?
Cornell Cooperative Extension offered a climate-steward program last year and, after going through an intensive, 12-week training, I had to design a project for my city. Being rather new to Beacon, I approached Sergei Krasikov [the chair of the city’s Conservation Advisory Committee], who said they had been talking about collaborating on environmental projects with the schools. We met with [Superintendent] Matt Landahl and felt that pollinator pathways could be a good starting point. Beacon’s schools have vast acres of land, much of it grass. Our goal is to come up with a plan — where should these things be, and why? What are the criteria? And if it’s on school property, what are the educational opportunities? So many of the elementary schools already have gardens, where children are taught about how to grow food, so this could augment that learning. 

When you talk about there being too much grass, do lawns count?
I don’t think grass lawns will ever be eliminated, but it takes a lot of pesticides and gas mowers to keep grass looking good. The idea is to adopt a more sustainable way to protect your yard, and a pollinator path, or even a patch, can help. The plantings can be perennials that come back year after year. They’re protecting the soil but they don’t require chemicals and give people another way to make their lawn look interesting without so much grass.

What’s your impression of the environmental scene here?
My impression is that while there are many people here who are committed to protecting the environment, a lot of their work is a best-kept secret. Communication is a challenge for a lot of these projects, even though Beacon is not a huge community. I’m hoping that by involving the team I’m working with, and working across the schools, we can create and keep a buzz going.

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