At the Farm GateModern moms, Manure and Monarchs Mainstream, unusual mix on the farm
You could call me a modern, mainstream mom at times: I use grocery pickup services. The touch of a smartphone app locates my 13-year-old’s missing cell phone. And home-delivery subscriptions supply our household’s toilet paper and laundry detergent.
Almost equally, abnormality fills my day. For instance, my fitness tracker auto-logged my physical activity to scoop manure from the hen house as “outdoor biking.” A few days later, a skunk sprayed near an air-intake pipe, releasing the signature stench through every furnace duct of our home. And my minivan has more off-road cred than most American SUVs. Routinely, I thumb-rub the back-up camera, removing residue from our sloppy gravel road throughout the thaw of March.
But soon, the furnace will stop running. My Fitbit will track hand-hoeing in the garden as time on an elliptical, and I’ll deal with more dust than mud on the minivan doors. About that time, the monarch butterflies will make their comeback, too. It seems an unlikely thought that farmers would ever respect a plant with “weed” in its name. Yet, mainstream, monarch-supporting farmers now welcome milkweed. At our farm, you’ll find the traditional weed with its namesake milky sap in cattle pastures, fence lines and grassy knolls.
For the last few years, Midwestern farmers collectively have allowed milkweed to proliferate. They join a concerted conservation effort to preserve and plant this crucial food source for the monarch to keep the pollinator off the endangered species list. Mainstream farmers mow around more milkweed. They sometimes intentionally plant it and let the blossoms seed out, a cringing thought in yesteryear farming.
Consequently, the kids and I more easily find monarch caterpillars munching milkweed in the pasture. Grandma sees more orange-and-black-winged beauties in her flower gardens. A sunflower farmer texted me a photo of hundreds of monarchs attracted to his farmstead. By late last summer, the kids spotted several of them on a single flowering plant in a road ditch near our house.
Mexico – the unofficial monarch authority – has noticed, too. Experts report a 144 percent increase in the population of monarch butterflies wintering in central Mexico compared to last year, according to the Associated Press. The land area that monarchs covered in 2018-19 ranked the largest in more than a decade.
Evidently, butterfly nets would make a good addition to my kids’ Easter basket idea list, a digital list accessible from my smartphone.
About the author: Joanie Stiers, a wife and mother of two farm kids, writes from west-central Illinois, where her family grows corn, soybeans and hay and raises beef cattle.