South Carolina Conservation Partnership Buzzing About Pollinators
by Amy Melissa Overstreet, SC NRCS Outreach and Public Affairs Specialist
The ecological benefits that pollinators provide help produce more than 85 percent of the world’s flowering plants. Many of these plants depend on pollinators, like bees and bats, to reproduce, and bees are the main pollinators of fruits and vegetables. But, these critical pollinators are in trouble as habitat loss, disease, parasites, and environmental contaminants are causing a decline of many species of pollinators, including some of more than 4,000 species of native bees in North America.
That’s why agencies like the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in South Carolina, and the Xerces Society, with the support of a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant, are educating conservation partnership employees including NRCS, local soil and water conservation districts, cooperative extension agents, and employees of state departments of agriculture. Clemson University also provided support and resources for two very successful training trainings that took place last year. Now, the results of the pollinator planting trainings are starting to blossom.
Last summer, NRCS and the Xerces Society hosted Pollinator Conservation Planning Short Courses for participants throughout the state. These hands-on training sessions included both classroom and field training. The purpose was to draw attention to declining populations of pollinators and promote conservation by helping to protect their natural habitats.
One of the training sessions took place in Charleston, South Carolina, on John’s Island, at the state’s first incubator farm. Dirt Works Incubator Farm is a project of Lowcountry Local First, and is the first farm business incubator in South Carolina supporting new and beginning farmers.
The farm is located on a 10-acre parcel of land neighboring Rosebank Farms on Walnut Hill Plantation owned by Jack and Andrea Limehouse. There are currently six farmers leasing plots that share access to irrigation, packing facilities, walk-in refrigeration, hand-tools, farm mentorship, and a tractor.
The first acre of the property is utilized as a community teaching farm and demonstration site. Each season 25-35 farming apprentices work together to maintain the acre while learning core farming concepts. The pollinator habitat at Dirt Works is located within the community teaching farm alongside other demonstrations including permaculture, cover-cropping, medicinal herbs, and accessible beds.
Nikki Seibert, Director of Sustainable Agriculture for Lowcountry Local First, was surveying the farm this spring when she came across the quarter-acre field where the pollinator planting training was hosted last June. She was delighted to see a field of flowers, bursting with color, and wrote to NRCS to let them know about her discovery. “I was working out at the Dirt Works Incubator Farm when I realized that our pollinator habitat is thriving! All of this rain has worked to our benefit for sure.” Seibert says she is grateful for the partnership with NRCS, because it helps “ensure farmers and landowners have all of the tools, training, and support necessary to be productive and responsible stewards of the land."
SC NRCS Wildlife Biologist Sudie Daves helped prepare the site and secured seed donations from two conservation seed companies. She also developed additional field training. Nancy Adamson, a Pollinator Conservation Specialist from the NRCS East National Technology Support Center in Greensboro, NC, conducted most of the indoor training. “Offering hands-on experience with seed planting provides people a layer of confidence in supporting these plantings, which are more complicated than the grass plantings most folks are familiar with,” Adamson explained.
The participants combined seed with different types of carriers, broadcast them by hand, and then used their feet to ensure the seeds had good seed-to-soil contact. The group also captured bees to practice identification.
Participants gained a much greater understanding and appreciation for the amazing impacts of pollinators, and ways to improve their habitat with wildflower mixes. This conservation partnership in South Carolina is buzzing about the benefits of pollinators.