Lessons from the Clarkston Family Farm Monarch Festival

Lessons from the Clarkston Family Farm Monarch Festival

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Sept. 14, 2018)

Clarkston, MI- On Saturday children fluttered about the Clarkston Family Farm, delighted with a day of hands-on learning at the Monarch Butterfly Festival.

Kids waved wands made of sticks and newspaper butterflies tied to strings as they explored several stations set up throughout the educational facility.  Many had their faces painted to look like butterflies, and some wore wings made out of fabric.  But not only were they there just to dress up in appreciation, they got to help the monarch population as well.

Diane Pruden of Monarch Watch had a table set up inside a tent in an area of the farm flush with goldenrod. Beside her was a mesh box full of freshly emerged monarchs ready to be set free.

But first they had to be tagged, and the kids got to help.  They looked on as Pruden explained that putting tags on the wings helps Monarch Watch track their migration patterns.

The little circles are nearly weightless and are placed where they don’t harm the butterfly’s flight.  “3M created this special adhesive that is activated with the heat from our fingers, so we pinch the tag and it becomes part of their wings. It doesn’t come off,” she said.

Volunteers make a list of the numbers on the tag and record the gender of the butterfly and the location it’s released from, as well as if the monarch was born in the wild or in captivity.

“The monarchs migrate south to Mexico because it’s warmer, and they tend to go to the same places. When the monarchs die the local people collect their wings which have the tags on them.  We pay them $5 per tag, which is a lot of money in Mexico.  For some people that’s the best income they have, so we are helping the families and we can track the butterflies,” she said to the children who gathered around to help her free the butterflies.

The kids helped with the countdown while Pruden affixed the tags.  “One, two, three, four, five,” they said.

Before being set free, the butterflies were given a snack of sugary water.  The children watched in amazement as the little creature uncurled its long proboscis to such up the liquid like a straw.

After getting some fuel for its flight, Pruden pinched the creatures wings and carried it outside the tent, with the children in two. They counted together again, this time just to three, before Pruden put the monarch on one of the goldenrod plants.  The families gathered around for selfies with the beautiful bug before it flew off.

In another area of the farm, several volunteers including Louie Fiorino, gave kids an up close look at caterpillars and cocoons.  Fiorino has personally raised and tagged over 200 of the distinctly orange and black butterflies.

“The caterpillars start out very small, and they eat lots of leaves until they get big,” he said.  “When they are getting ready to make a chrysalis they will put a spot of silk on a leaf or on the top of their enclosure.  When the larva hangs upside down and curls into a J shape you know they are ready for metamorphosis,” Fiorino explained.

Kids and adults looked in awe at the various stages of monarch life, including the spring green chrysalis early in metamorphosis, and the black chrysalis of a monarch ready to emerge.

He also taught visitors how to tell the difference between a female and male monarch.  Male monarchs have thicker black lines and a round scent glad on each wing.

When asked why he comes to events like the Monarch Festival, Fiorino said “This is how we can teach the next generation to care about nature.  Monarchs are in danger and we need them for our ecosystem. If we don’t teach kids to care, they’re going to disappear.”

Not only did the families get to see the life cycle, they were able to adopt tiny caterpillars to take home and raise.  They were given containers with a mesh top and plenty of milkweed, which are the caterpillars favorite food, as well as instructions for how to care for their new little friends.

They were also able to take home milkweed plants and seed bombs, to help spread this plant as it supports the monarch population.

Chelsea O’Brien, founder of the Clarkston Family Farm, organized the event along with monarch specialist Debbie Jackson and Clarkston Family Farm Board Secretary Camila Duarte.

“Approximately 800 people attended our very first monarch butterfly festival at the Clarkston Family Farm on Saturday,” O’Brien said.  “Part of our mission at the farm is to educate and inspire the next generation about the value of nature and doing it in the context of a positive community gathering space. The monarch butterfly festival was a perfect fit to help us achieve that goal.

“It was such a joy to see the excitement and interest and commitment to supporting this vulnerable species and becoming educated and inspired to get more involved in nature-based outdoor activities. The nature of childhood is changing, there’s simply less nature in it! At the Clarkston Family Farm we are working incredibly hard to change that narrative. I think we made a huge step in the right direction with yesterday’s event.”

Learn more:

Clarkston Family Farm

Monarch Watch

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