Community, Environmental, Local, Nature, Park Forest, Science

Reviving Pollinators: The Birch Street Townhomes Model

Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- Climate change is not only having an impact on weather patterns. There are hotter days during the summer and colder days during the winter. We see more devastating hurricanes and tornados, winds that turn small fires into major conflagrations. However, it’s also decreasing pollinators which are necessary elements for plant production.

According to naturalists, approximately 80 percent of plants that give us the food we need for our physical well-being depend on pollinators. Likewise, the flowers and other plants that give us visual nourishment depend on pollinators too. Scientists are warning us if we lose our pollinators it will make life a lot more difficult for humans. The absence of bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, etc. will make life a lot more difficult for humans.

Some residents of Birch Street Townhomes in Park Forest decided it was time to do something about it. They undertook a volunteer effort to create a garden filled with plants that are especially attractive to pollinators. They chose to beautify a section of the housing cooperative’s property that has been something of an eyesore for several years.

“Along Bertoldo Road, a fence that encloses the utility right-of-way stands out for its ugliness,” explained Doug Price, long-time Birch Street Townhomes resident and president for the cooperative’s Board of Directors. “At the same time, many of us have noticed that over the last few years, the number of pollinators in our region has been decreasing.”

Enter the Birch Street Gardeners

The solution to both issues, Price said, was to bring together a group of volunteers. They call themselves the Birch Street Gardeners. The co-op entrusted to them the property adjacent to the fence a location for what has become a beautiful garden. It is now filled mostly with native plants all of which are just what pollinators are looking for.

“This is the second year for our garden,” explained Dominic Balmaseda, one of the cooperative residents engaged in the project. “It’s so gratifying to see butterflies, bees, hummingbirds going from plant to plant.”

Balmaseda also oversees the community garden on the property of the former St. Irenaeus Church in Park Forest. He took the lead in picking plants for the Bertoldo Road project. He supervised getting them in the ground and maintaining them. “The cooperative staff has been very helpful in assuring the garden is watered regularly,” he explained.

A Monthly Column to Inspire Others to Save Pollinators

An additional component of the group’s work is to encourage other co-op residents to do more in their gardens to attract pollinators. In that connection, Nick Battaglia – also a co-op resident and member of the Gardeners group – is writing a monthly column for the co-op’s newsletter. He provides gardening guidance to residents, specifically focused on how they can help in the effort.

“We’d like to get as many of our residents as possible involved in these efforts to attract more pollinators,” Battaglia said.

The work of the volunteers impresses some residents. One day, Balmaseda found an envelope in his mailbox with $100. This came with a note from an anonymous donor saying the funds were to help with the project. As a result, the team could place two benches along the Bertoldo Road strip. There, folks can stop during the growing season and soak up the loveliness at a spot formerly avoided.

The next project for the volunteers, Price said, is to create a rain garden on the cooperative property.

John A. Ostenburg retired in 2019 after 20 years as mayor of Park Forest, Illinois. He retired in July 2010 as the chief of staff for the Chicago Teachers Union after holding various CTU posts for over 15 years. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he also has been a teacher and administrator at elementary, secondary, community college, and university levels. E-mail him at [email protected].