STONINGTON — For the past nine years, local resident Noreen Kepple has worked to help educate the public and encourage the community to find ways to manage local landscapes in a manner that will help honey bees and other pollinators. She is finally starting to see the fruits of her labors.
Pollinator gardens, some as small as a flower box and others as large as a field, have started to bloom across the community and a partnership between Kepple, town officials and members of the Beautification Committee has helped push the Stonington Pollinator Pathways Project full-steam ahead just in time for National Pollinator Week.
"For me, pollinators have always been something that has fascinated me," Kepple said. "Our food system is so dependent on the pollination process that without these bees and insects, we'd be looking at very bland aisles in the grocery store. Items such as peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, even chocolate ... they all rely on pollinators."
The Stonington Pollinator Pathways Project was formally launched in April, a rare opportunity that was not impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and is part of a long-term effort known as Sustainable Stonington. The concept for the pathways program was brought to members of the Board of Selectmen by Kepple, who had also worked with previous administrations, and she was tapped to help spearhead the pathways effort.
First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough, who has provided daily posts through the town's Facebook page over the course of the week in an effort to raise awareness, said the idea was immediately supported by herself and fellow selectwomen June Strunk and Deb Downie, as well as by all members of the town's Beautification Committee.
Chesebrough said the program can have a wide range of benefits for the community and those involved. Someone planting pollinators in place of grass, for example, will see a decrease in water use almost instantly and planting native shrubs.
"This is a critical issue. Pollinators are so important for food security and in creating local food sources, so it was not difficult to get behind this cause," she said.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, pollinators are responsible for 1 out of 3 bites of food we take each day, and yet pollinators are at a critical point in their own survival. The nectar and pollen sources provided by planting more flowering flora will improve bee health as well as aiding butterflies, birds, bats and other pollinators across the country.
It was this realization that led Kepple, who was certified as a master gardener through the University of Rhode Island in 2012, to begin reaching out a few years ago. She established a partnership with the town under then-First Selectman Rob Simmons, and that partnership continued to grow with the establishment of the Sustainable Stonington initiative this year.
Pollinator gardens have since been planted in several areas of the community including at Stonington Town Hall, by the Fourth District Voting Hall, behind the Velvet Mill and in Spellman Park.
Julie Holland, who serves as chairwoman of the Stonington Beautification Committee, said volunteers have also worked to implement pollinator gardens at locations in downtown Pawcatuck, including in the boxes along the bridge and at Donahue Park. The committee is constantly working to identify opportunities, Holland said, and will continue to look at ways to incorporate additional pollinator gardens into future projects.
She said the committee is always seeking volunteers and working to educate the public on how they can get involved and make a difference.
"No effort is too small, that's the beauty of this project," Holland said. "There are things people can do in their own backyards that can help make a positive impact."
Chesebrough encouraged others in the committee to get involved and help make a difference, whether it's planting a few seeds in an outdoor planter or building an entire garden.
The town is encouraging residents interested in taking part to sign the pollinator pledge and pick up free seeds from Stonington Town Hall to plant on their property. Those interested may also buy a sign for $12, with all proceeds going to the project itself.
Those seeking more information on the Stonington Pollinator Pathways Project may email StoningtonPollinators@ stonington-ct.gov or visit https://www.stonington-ct.gov/selectmens-office/pages/pollinator-pathway-project for more information and resources.
"This is a chance for us to do something small that could have a big impact," Chesebrough said. "The more residents who get involved, the more success this program could have."