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Discovery Middle School students to plant Pollinator Habitat Garden

This spring, students will be building the garden thanks to a grant from the Sand County Foundation’s Pollinator and Monarch Habitat Grant Program.

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Imperiled insect pollinators and monarch butterflies will get some help from Alexandria students at Discovery Middle School this year thanks to a pollinator habitat grant from the Sand County Foundation.
Contributed photo
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ALEXANDRIA — Since Discovery Middle School in Alexandria became a designated Department of Natural Resources Forest School a couple of years ago, teachers have had the opportunity to bring many outdoor learning experiences to their students.

Experiences included putting docks and trails in, along with adding trees and outdoor learning experiences.

Nearly two miles of trails through the Alexandria site are open for public use.

This spring, students will be building a Pollinator Habitat Garden thanks to a grant from the Sand County Foundation’s Pollinator and Monarch Habitat Grant Program.

The grant was recently awarded to the school and teachers Morgan Olson and Lukas Gotto will be spearheading the program in the new 8th grade elective class, The Great Outdoors. They will be partnering with Jeff Pokorney’s Environmental Science and Ag Science classes at Alexandria Area High School, according to Gotto.

He said all the essentials needed to get started on the garden arrived a couple of weeks ago and included six packages of native seeds, a large container of starter seed to plant at the site, and 640 containers to start the plants.

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Lukas Gotto

The six varieties of native plants are being planted now. The seeds will need to be planted and will go through moist-cold stratification, which Gotto said is when the seed is mixed with moistened inert material, then stored in a cold location for a period of time to "trick" the seed into thinking it's gone through winter. The seeds will then germinate and grow upon removal from the cold storage and will be ready to plant in the ground outside this spring, he said.

“We will be selecting a two-acre location at Discovery in our School Forest for planting this spring,” he said, adding that pollinator gardens have a positive impact on the environment because of all the lost habitat pollinator species are facing today. “It's very important to add this habitat as pollinators are the species responsible for pollinating virtually everything. It's even better when we can get students directly involved with the process, starting with the seeds all the way to planting in the ground.”

Gotto said that Olson completed a two-week "Pollinators in the Science Classroom" course offered through the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus last summer and will share knowledge and resources from that experience with their students, as well.

Creating the pollinator garden also allows them to add another habitat to the School Forest, which Gotto said they are very excited about. Students will learn from the garden and community members will be able to enjoy it.

“We currently have three of the four Minnesota biomes in our 54-acre School Forest, and recently received another donation from the DNR to plant hardwood trees this spring, getting us our fourth and final biome of Minnesota,” said Gotto. “All in all, we have a very unique space out back and continue to add to that every year. We hope the community can get out and enjoy nature as much as the students!”

The combination of white spruce and red pine trees were donated by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The Sand Foundation awarded pollinator habitat grants to agriculture and science programs at 21 high schools in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Each school district or FFA chapter received prairie seeds and seedlings, a consultation and $1,000 to support project expenses.

“Insect pollinators are essential for crop pollination and ecological diversity. In recent years their numbers are low, partly due to loss of native wildflower habitat, especially in the agricultural landscape,” said Haley Diem, Sand County Foundation school grant program coordinator. “We encourage applicants to partner with landowners to establish pollinator habitat on agricultural and other working lands.”

Pollinator habitat grant program sponsors include Syngenta, Enel North America, Monarch Joint Venture, U.S. Forest Service International Programs, Wisconsin Public Service Foundation and We Energies Foundation.

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Educators and landowners interested in becoming involved in the project are encouraged to contact Diem at hdiem@sandcountyfoundation.org for more information.

Celeste Edenloff is the special projects editor and a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. She has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in 2016 to once again report on the community she calls home.
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