There is no more significant food event in our time than the problems facing our pollinators. I wrote about this last fall and as I was reporting it I kept being overcome by a tingly Twilight Zone nervous quality: We’re not really just willy nilly removing giant chunks of the living environment are we?
Yes, yes we are. We lose moths and bumblebees as we turn our farm fields into ethanol fields, and pretreat the corn with systemic insecticide and then drench it with plain old pesticide. We lose honeybees to parasites and the same thing. We lose butterflies to the same thing, plus the way we have replaced prairie and woodland with lawn and non-native gardens, non-native flowers are like restaurants without food to bugs.
But then with the pollinators dead, the surviving wild plants can’t get pollinated. And the birds can’t eat the seeds that would have arisen from being pollinated, and they can’t eat the bugs either.
Frankly, I partly blame myself. Until I reported this story I had no idea that moths filled any role at all in the world: I thought they could be found at porch lights, ate sweaters, and that’s about where my knowledge of moths ended. No. They are the pollinators who work the night shift. Your great-grandparents probably knew a world of moths, like plate-sized Luna moths in the cities, the likes of which would strike us as science fiction.
And that may well be what our grandchildren think about us and Monarch butterflies. But I take some bitter solace in the idea that I’m not the only environmentally illiterate person to blunder into a situation I would never have wanted, no one seems to have foreseen that if we removed milkweed from every American corn and cotton field, we’d lose the Monarch butterflies which use milkweed as the food for their babies. I mean larvae.
When I published my story on the plight of our pollinators last fall, I vowed I would do something in the spring to help them. It was good that I made this vow because when the story ran, the magazine was flooded with letters from people who wanted to help. So we’re throwing a big pollinator event at the Ritz Theater March 18, at 6 p.m. Here’s the plan:
What is going on with pollinators, really, and what can each of us do big and small? We have an all-star panel assembled to answer this question.
No one has given more articulate voice to the plight of the honey bee than Macarthur Genius Award winner and UM Bee Lab head Marla Spivak. If you’ve seen her TED Talks you know she’s articulate, no-nonsense, and inspiring. She’s also the center of a worldwide web of the growing science of what is affecting pollinators. Marla will tell us about the latest science and the latest local and national initiatives to help our six-legged friends.
Did you know that since 2008 the United States has plowed under an amount of prairie equivalent to the state of Indiana—and that nearly 40 percent of that missing prairie is in Minnesota and the Dakotas? Ron Bowen sure does. He is the president and founder of Prairie Restorations, and has had a hand in restoring some 10,000 prairies from Martha’s Vineyard to the Dakotas. He’ll talk about native plants, native plant communities, and ways that all of us can convert land back to native species, from woodland to prairie.
But what can we do as cooks and eaters? Lucia Watson is one of the great chefs of the Twin Cities, she founded Lucia’s nearly 30 years ago, and is one of the chefs we can credit with starting our local farm-to-table movement. Today, Lucia's thinking deeply about how to cook with pollinator health in mind. She’ll talk about how she’s doing it and what all of us can do in our kitchens and when we dine out to make sure we get to eat in the world we want to live in.
This is going to be fun, not gloomy and doomy. Your $10 admission will get you two free cocktails made with our sponsor fairlife milk and the special secret ingredient of local sustainably raised honey! They will be prepared by up-and-coming bartenders Nathan McLemore-Raczkowski (of Borough and Parlour) and Joshua Augustin from ZZest in Rochester. You will get to pick your favorite and vote, the winning bartender will have his creation served at our big American Society of Interior Designers events in the spring, to all the fancy hotel and restaurant owners.
And that’s not all!
We’ll have seed giveaways, and a honey tasting of four different types of honey from the University of Minnesota Bee Squad. We’ll have opportunities to sign up to help with bee research (like the kid-friendly, completely fun bumblebee counts led by Elaine Evans), and there will be opportunities to get in the loop with initiatives to help pollinators. Prairie Restoration will even give free site assessments of your yard (if you have photos and things to say about your yard).
We’ll have free food from Lucia’s: A quiche bite with prosciutto drizzled with chili pepper Bare Honey. We'll also have even more free food from sustainable food leaders Common Roots, including local cheeses, sustainably harvested shrimp with a honey-chili glaze, turkey sliders with cheddar and honey-Dijon, and mini chocolate cupcakes with chocolate honey buttercream and honey rosemary Whoopie pies.
Why are we doing all this? Because if we lose the Monarch butterfly on our watch we will never forgive ourselves. Because alone this problem seems overwhelming and scary, but together we can do something. Because at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine we care about Minnesota, among other places, and Minnesota needs butterflies and moths and honey bees to be truly itself. And because I read Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who at a formative age, and came to believe that if all the Whos in Whoville get out of their house and make a great noise, they can be heard. I hope you can come! It’s going to be a great night—and could potentially change your garden, your plate, and all our world for the better.
And to sweeten the pot, we’ll give away two sets of tickets, simply enter a comment below on something you’re doing to help pollinators, be it buying local honey or something more ambitious, by March 11 at 12 p.m. and we will pick two sets of winners at random and get tickets for you at will-call. Must be 21 or over to attend (the cocktails, you know). Grateful thanks to the people behind the new high protein filtered milk fairlife, who believe in sustainability and traceability, for supporting us and allowing us to put on what I think will be a fantastic event. I hope to see you there!