Growing up, my blood flowed a little greener than normal. Even today, when environmentalism is so much more advanced than it was when I was younger, I tend to be a little more militant than the next guy, unless the next guy is a vegan warrior riding the open ocean on the Steve Irwin. The city of Green Bay recognized this last year when the mayor and city council gave my family the Mayor’s leadership award for environmental sustainability. I took my son to receive the award and spoke a little about cool things people could do (including eating lower on the food chain).
I grew up loving the outdoors. I hunted at fished. I played in the woods. I rode my bike all over the place. At 16, I went vegetarian, after reading about the effects of animal agriculture on the environment.
At 18, I went vegan, but only for a year. I suffered serious weight loss and my blood protein and iron dipped really low and returned to eating dairy and eggs. I wasn’t doing it right, but it’s still my intention at 33 to figure out how to live vegan. Unfortunately there have been bumps in the road, including mild to serious allergies to certain vegan staples. (If anyone knows of a good gluten-free, quinoa-free vegan diet plan to follow, let me know!)
But, this post isn’t about eating plants. It’s about planting plants.
Many of us rightly decry the loss of habitat for our wild animal species. Part of the answer is to preserve wilderness. But, another huge part of the answer is to re-wild our environment. Even if that means doing it right in the middle of a city.
This is my sixth growing season actively working to develop prairie gardens in Green Bay. A few years ago, a friend and I decided to put a fine point on the work we’re doing and develop a plan for something called the Green Bay Pollinator Corridor. We are attempting to establish stopover gardens for birds and insects. We are trying to provide habitat for our threatened and endangered migratory species. And we are succeeding. Just today, I took my students out to our garden at school and we found a monarch butterfly caterpillar.
We are also succeeding at tying in our gardens with local organic food production. This spring, we planted our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th pollinator gardens adjoining urban community gardens. We are hoping to give our local organic food producers a boost.
Our American Eden may have been ravaged, but we can restore a great deal of what has been destroyed. I found this out by joining my local chapter of the Wild Ones Native Plants, Natural Landscapes. It was founded in Wisconsin and has spread its message far and wide.
The idea of actively restoring native landscape also started in Wisconsin when Aldo Leopold created the world’s first prairie restoration at the UW-Madison Arboretum. But, of course, great ideas spread. Recently, Catherine Zimmerman, a Maryland gardener and blogger of The Meadow Project, created a book and film called Urban and Suburban Meadows. She plans to do a follow up film that will feature some sites in Wisconsin. I hope to meet her, and I also hope that her work goes on to inspire people all over the world.
So, don’t just despair over what we’ve lost. Play in the dirt. Restore your health and restore the health of your local environment. Plant native plants. Do it for the birds, the bees, and our kids!