The Pivotal Role of Pollinators
When you are used to simply buying your food off of a shelf at a supermarket, you may not give much thought to all that had to happen for it to arrive there. There are many levels of necessary steps behind the scenes that ensure that our food gets to consumers. There are those who transport it. Those who harvest it. Those who plant and grow it. But even before we get to those steps, there is a critical component that initiates the creation of that food: pollination.
Did you know that pollinators are directly responsible for bringing us about 75% of the flowering plants and about 35% of the food crops grown in the world? Pollinators are animals that move the pollen from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma of a flower to cause fertilization that results in the vegetables, fruits, and nuts that are part of our diets. According to the USDA, over 100 crops grown in our country depend on pollination.
Local farmer Doug Yunker is helping to educate the public on the importance of pollinators. He partnered with the Cook County Farm Bureau for a recent event at Lincoln Park Zoo aimed at raising awareness of pollinators and how necessary they are to our food supply. He talked about why we need to create an environment for these creatures to thrive.
“Thirty-five percent of the world’s food crops depend on pollinators to reproduce. Without pollinators, our food supply would be in real trouble!” said Yunker. “Anyone can help provide a habitat for pollinators to thrive. Planting a diverse mix of plants that flower in the spring, summer and fall allows the pollinators to have a food source they can consume all year long.”
Yunker is also practicing what he’s teaching. “On our farm, we do a few things that help pollinators thrive. On part of our farm, we have transitioned some of our land to certified organic. On these acres we do not apply pesticides, which allows the pollinators to move freely without the risk of spray injury. We also grow hay and cover crops. These allow pollinators to have a diverse environment to feed and pollinate throughout the summer and early fall.”
The 5 B’s of Pollination
Bees often come to mind first on the subject of pollination and more than 3,500 species of native bees contribute to crop output, but there are other ‘b’s beyond ‘bees’ that play a huge role in the world’s food supply.
Pollination depends on these five ‘b’s as well as other small animals. They’re responsible for bringing us one out of every three bites of food! They also sustain our ecosystems and produce our natural resources by helping plants reproduce.
“People most often think of bees as nature’s main pollinator, but moths, birds, bats, and butterflies also have a big role in pollinating. While feeding on the flower’s nectar, the pollen gets brushed on the animal. When they visit the next flower that pollen falls off and pollinates the plant,” said Yunker.
5 Ways We Can Help Pollinators
- Plant milkweed, which serves as a host plant for monarch butterflies
- Designate a plot on your land or in your yard for native plants
- Help plant a community garden
- Reduce pesticide use
- Spread the word to others letting them know the importance of pollinators and post pictures of your native pollinator plants using the hashtag #pollinateamerica
Carrie Steinweg is a freelance writer, author, blogger and photographer living in Chicago’s south suburbs with her husband and five sons. Her work has appeared in dozens of print and online publications and she is the author of seven books. A passionate foodie, Carrie thoroughly enjoys traveling and visiting new restaurants and craft breweries, attending food festivals and trying out new recipes and kitchen gadgets. She writes about her food experiences at ChicagoFoodieSisters.com.