As spring arrives in Peterborough, the bees emerge for another season of pollination.
For some of those bees, finding food and pollinating plants may be a little easier this year, thanks to the work of the Peterborough Pollinators, a citizen-led group dedicated to making the city more pollinator-friendly. Over the last few years the group has built ten pollinator gardens in Peterborough (some funded through the the City’s experiment with participatory budgeting in 2016), and identified another 190 pollinator gardens around the city. They also advocate extensively for the importance of pollinators, and they support other groups and individuals with similar goals.
The Peterborough Pollinators were founded in 2015. “We’d been meeting and discussing local food and food security,” says Carlotta James, one of the group’s founders. Inspired by a pollinator pathway she’d seen in Seattle, James suggested doing something similar in Peterborough, with the goal of “reusing urban space, repurposing it, and reimagining it so we could bring wildlife back into our city centres.”
By re-wilding our cities with native plants, we invite not just bees, but other pollinators like bats, birds, beetles, and butterflies back into our communities, thereby helping to restore harmed ecosystems.
“Without pollinators, most of our trees and shrubs and plants wouldn’t be here,” James says, “and without pollination, we wouldn’t be able to eat. Scientists say one-third of our food requires pollination services.”
A good pollinator garden has a diversity of native plant species, James says. A garden needs plants with varying heights, colours, sizes, and bloom times to support pollinators throughout the year, and certain pollinators, like butterflies, rely on specific plant species to survive.
The Peterborough Pollinators are motivated by environmental concerns, and they’re passionate about local food and ecological sustainability. But they are also lovers of beauty, and they appreciate the therapeutic effects of pollinator gardens.
“There are a lot of issues in North America with mental health, and with our disconnect from nature and the outdoors,” James says. “So I just think if there were a garden in every community, if every school had a pollinator garden or a butterfly garden, I think we’d have an elevated consciousness as a community.
“There’s so much healing that can happen in a garden,” she says.
The Peterborough Pollinators meet weekly as an informal group to discern what projects they want to take on, and to make plans and organize. They’re committed to remaining non-hierarchical and citizen-led, and they believe supporting pollinators is one way communities can make significant change, without having to rely on government.
“We can’t wait for governments to bring in change,” James says. “The grassroots way of doing things is where it’s at. We work from a place of hope, we work from a place of inspiration, and we work from a place of love.”
Grassroots action can have a huge impact, but it can’t do everything. The Peterborough Pollinators have campaigned to get Peterborough recognized as a Bee City, a national designation for cities and First Nations that agree to build bee-friendly gardens and limit pesticide use. The City of Kawartha Lakes became a Bee City in 2017, but so far Peterborough’s City Council has declined to endorse the Peterborough Pollinators’ initiative.
Luckily, citizens can do a lot on their own to make Peterborough a pollinator refuge, and the Peterborough Pollinators are ready to help.
“Peterborough is one of many communities in North America that are trying to invite pollinators back into our urban centres,” James says, “and I just want it to be elevated even more so.
“Let’s show Ontario, and all of Canada, what can be accomplished from a citizen perspective.”
On May 5 and 6, 2018, the Peterborough Pollinators are hosting a Pollination Summit. Community dialogues, garden tours, and a presentation from Canadian bee expert Mark Winston are planned. For more information about the event, visit the Peterborough Pollinators website.
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Photos by Ben Wolfe.