By Carol Stiffler

The hum of bees is the voice of the garden.
-Elizabeth Lawrence

Every square foot of land you own is teeming with potential to support our local ecosystem, host native plants for bees and other pollinators, and give shelter to small birds or animals.

The Chippewa Luce Mackinac Conservation District (CLMCD) understands that. Collectively, private green space makes up 60 percent of our country, which means that all together, private individuals or businesses that own land can have the greatest impact on its health and success.

For the past two years, the CLMCD has awarded small grants to people and organizations who had conservation projects in mind..

In 2022, the CLMCD awarded five $800 grants. Recipients said the grant amount didn’t allow for as much work as they hoped, so in 2023, the CLMCD offered grants of up to $2,000. They awarded seven, including two in Newberry. All Saints Episcopal Church on Truman Boulevard received a grant for a pollinator garden, and I received one for a pollinator garden on my property in western Luce County.

“Any size landowner can do something,” said Mike McCarthy, executive director of the CLMCD . “It doesn’t matter if they own a postage stamp in the middle of the city, or a large acreage outside of town–they can do something that these grants can support them to do.”

At All Saints Episcopal Church, Secretary Ann Turney developed plans for a pollinator garden with a walking path that’s wheelchair accessible.

“The pollinator garden grant helps fulfill a mission of All Saints to provide an area of contemplation for the community,” Turney said. ”We hope to expand plantings in the future. This has been a wonderful opportunity.”

Since the church is right across the street from the Golden Leaves nursing facility, she hopes both church members and families of nursing home patients will be able to pause and take a breath at the garden. She’s planning to add benches there soon, after they’re built by the shop class at Whitefish Township Schools.

“They’ll be available for people in the community to come and sit, look at the pollinator garden, say a prayer, or just take a break,” Turney said.

Turney said the All Saints congregation was going to do a pollinator garden, regardless, but were able to kick start the project with the grant from CLMCD.

Turney and I worked with Northern Natives Nursery to complete our pollinator projects. My garden was installed on August 26, and the All Saints garden was installed beginning September 8.

The Newberry-based Northern Natives got permits from the state to gather seeds of native plants from the area, then planted and propagated them so the native plants can be installed in local landscapes.

Northern Natives, led by Ken Kerkhof and Joth Colefax, operate out of a few acres of land just west of the Newberry Country Club’s back nine on M-28.

Kerkhof would like homeowners to reconsider what should grow on their property. Rather than buying a large sack of fescue grass seeds at home improvement stores, plant native grasses and flowers.

“We’ve worked with the conservation district coming on seven years now,” Kerkhof said. “One of the largest things we’ve espoused has been the absolute need to establish native vegetation. I like to say we create nuclei. We create these cultivation centers that would allow seed to be dispersed, to expand on the growing areas.”

The CLMCD also focuses on removing invasive species, a task Kerkhof sometimes assists with. While it’s imperative to remove the invasives, putting beneficial – hopefully native – plants in their place is a necessary second step.

“I’ve always espoused to fill the void,” Kerkhof said. “When you do treatment, you need to add natives to start reestablishing that base.”

Kerkhof said partnering with the CLMCD and local conservation enthusiasts was a natural fit.

“I know you’re passionate about it,” he said. “It was synergistic on all levels. It gave us work we desperately needed, and gave you guys aesthetic beauty, and some things that are going to be beneficial if you garden at all for fruits and vegetables. The native plants will increase that output because you’ll get more pollinators coming in, hitting that, and they’ll find those other plants.”

Kerkhof said Northern Natives is preparing to sell native plants at retail outlets next season, like farmers markets, and hopes word will continue to spread about the importance of fostering native plants to assist bees and other pollinators.