SAN ANTONIO — St. John Berchmans Catholic School students in San Antonio learned about the importance of pollinators at the Feed a Bee Planting Event presented Feb. 27 by Bayer in collaboration with National 4-H and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in Bexar County.
The event kicked off Bayer’s 12th annual AgVocacy Forum, which this year takes place from Feb. 28 through March 1 in San Antonio.
“At 4-H, we believe in the power of young people and how they can bring positive change to their communities,” said Carolyn Fernandez, director of development, National 4-H Council, Chevy Chase, Maryland. “Through this event, 4-Hers took away important information on the factors affecting pollinators and how they can help, as well as how pollinators are essential for pollinating the foods they eat every day.”
Dr. Chris Boleman, National 4-H Council board member, College Station, said programs like Feed a Bee are “the perfect partnership programs for Texas 4-H” in that they “allow youth to work toward learning science, technology, engineering and mathematics — known collectively as STEM — objectives in the context of a respect and admiration for nature.”
More than 60 students in second through eighth grade belonging to the school’s 4-H program participated in educational presentations focusing on honey bees and monarch butterflies. They also helped establish a “pollinator patch” in the school garden. The students rotated through education stations explaining what pollinators do, how bees help in farming, the role of butterflies as pollinators and the basics of beekeeping. They also participated in a honey tasting and learned how to create their own backyard pollinator garden.
“This was a great opportunity for 4-H youth at St. John Berchmans to get hands-on learning experience,” said Dr. Melinda Garcia, AgriLife Extension program specialist and Children Youth and Families At Risk program coordinator in Bexar County. “St. John Berchmans was a great location because of its 4-H involvement and solid 4-H program as well as the SJB Giving Garden, which has 15 raised beds.”
Attendees included District 5 city councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, and representatives from Bayer, the Bayer North American Bee Care Program, National 4-H Council, AgriLife Extension and the Bexar County Master Gardener volunteer horticulture program.
Gonzales told the students their efforts with the garden and Feed a Bee program were in keeping with citywide efforts to improve urban agriculture through a food production initiative involving local farmers.
“Feed a Bee is a major initiative to increase food for honey bees and other pollinators,” explained Dr. Becky Langer, director of the North American Bayer Bee Care Program. “We accomplish this by planting wildflowers and establishing additional forage acreage across the U.S. by working with a diverse group of stakeholders interested in promoting bee health.”
She said with the support of 900,000 people around the country and more than 115 partner organizations, Feed a Bee has planted more than 2 billion wildflowers to create more forage for honey bees and other pollinators.
“These days there are fewer people with a direct connection to agriculture and food production,” said Darren Wallis, vice president of North America Communications for Bayer’s CropScience Division, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. “It’s important for us to get youth interested in agriculture and in things related to agriculture, especially with a growing world population needing to be fed.”
At the event, Bayer representatives also made a $10,000 donation to Bexar County 4-H to help fund future pollinator initiatives and activities throughout the county.
St. John Berchmans’ principal Beverly Abbott, who also teaches science at the sixth, seventh and eighth grade levels, said the event fit well with traditional classroom instruction.
“The students learn about photosynthesis in my class and this instruction on pollination shows another aspect of what plants need to grow,” she said. “We want our students not only to meet our science objectives but also to apply them and use them in the future.”
George Reyes, an eighth-grader and three-year 4-H member at the school, was one of the event participants.
“We learned all about how bees pollinate and how important it is to save them,” Reyes said. “We also learned about the flight patterns of monarch butterflies and how pollinators are important to helping us grow our fruits and vegetables. We also found out that bees are a really big part of the ecosystem and that most of the land around the school used to be farmland.”
Samantha Salinas, a resource team leader with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, San Antonio, said she enjoyed sharing information about monarch butterfly migration with the students.
“They were surprised to find out it takes five generations of butterflies to make the entire migration from Mexico to the northern U.S. and Canada,” she said. “The students were very interested in their Interstate 35 migration pattern and what they could do to provide the butterflies with food resources and protect them.”
In 2016, San Antonio was named the first Monarch Butterfly Champion City by the National Wildlife Federation after agreeing to adopt specific actions to help improve the declining monarch butterfly migration.
Educational sessions were followed by a pollinator planting activity in the school’s Giving Garden. The garden was built by students, teachers and administrators in collaboration with AgriLife Extension and the agency’s Bexar County Master Gardener volunteer horticulture program.
Students were given seeds and seedlings to spread or plant around the Giving Garden. Before the planting, local Native American group Southern Winds sang and provided a traditional blessing for the garden.
“We already had onions, shallots, garlic, cilantro and Italian chard in the garden – all of which survived the winter,” said John Mayer, one of the Bexar County Master Gardeners helping at the event. “The students planted sweet basil, anise hyssop and salvia, plus wildflower seeds, in garden beds. These new plants will draw more bees and other pollinators to the garden.”
Other students scattered wildflower seeds by hand onto a small dedicated garden plot.
“Planting these plants and sewing these wildflower seeds will provide ample nutrition for pollinators,” Langer said. “This is an important step in providing the diverse forage and habitat they need to thrive and to ensure they can continue to do their vital work in helping produce the food we all need.”
To learn more about Texas 4-H, go to: http://texas4-h.tamu.edu/. For more information on bee health initiatives, go to: http://www.bayercropscience.us/our-commitment/bee-health.