Where Are They Now: Mercer County Family YMCA Feed a Bee Planting Update

Sarah Brown, Chief Executive Officer of Mercer County Family YMCA, is here to tell us how her YMCA center in Aledo, Illinois, is using Feed a Bee grant to support local pollinator health

Jason Danner, Janner Excavating, donated time and equipment used to remove bushes to make room for pollinator forage
Jason Danner, Janner Excavating, donated time and equipment used to remove bushes to make room for pollinator forage

Back in 2017, my team at Mercer County Family YMCA applied for a Bayer Feed a Bee grant to enhance and restore existing vegetation for pollinators, as well as create a positive environment for the local community. Our vision was to create a waystation for monarch butterflies using a variety of perennials, annuals and native plants to demonstrate that a pollinator garden can be small, beautiful and manageable.

Here is a quick look at how the forage planting is feeding and supporting our local pollinators in Mercer County, as well as inspiring the community to do the same.

Mercer County: A Critical Area for Pollinators

Our site is about 15 miles from the Mississippi River, which is a migratory route for pollinator species like the monarch butterfly. Before the planting, there were only about a dozen different types of plants in all the facility’s gardens, and the lack of plant diversity limited the value of the gardens to specific pollinators. The rejuvenation of the gardens with plant diversity could support plant-specific pollinators as well as the generalist pollinators.

“The YMCA gardens are an integral part of the Y facilities and we made a commitment to maintain the newly developed gardens for a minimum of five years,” says Carol Longley, a Master Gardener at Mercer County Family YMCA. “The YMCA is in the center of town and the middle of the county. It is a community hub visited by all ages that offers a great opportunity to promote pollinators and educate the public on their importance.”

Kate Danner and Zach Palmer of Mercer County Family YMCA shoveling to remove bushes for forage planting
Kate Danner and Zach Palmer of Mercer County Family YMCA shoveling to remove bushes for forage planting

Forage Planting is planned, site prepared and ready for Spring Planting

Garden plans were completed last fall and the site was prepared for spring planting. A horticulturist from University of Illinois Extension made recommendations for plant care, soil health and garden design to improve conditions for pollinators. For example, several old bushes and stumps were removed from the gardens, invasive plants were eliminated, and overgrown plants were divided and donated to a local organization. To top it all off, we also created a bulletin board with pictures of pollinators and made signs with different plants to educate visitors at the YMCA.

What makes this forage initiative so fantastic is that the community has jumped on the opportunity to contribute. For example, the Mercer County Courthouse, which is two blocks from our YMCA building, started a similar garden renovation project with Pollinator Pocket and plans on running education initiatives with us as well. Our team has also started recruiting the community to help with planting gardens this spring. With winter coming to an end, our forage initiative is only just beginning.

“The grant funding opportunity is rare, and there is not that much funding for these particular types of projects,” says Carol. “The opportunity to rejuvenate the YMCA gardens into Pollinator Pocket gardens is appreciated by the board, and will be enjoyed by the community.”

Tune in to our social channels on Twitter and Instagram, and be sure to follow #FeedABee to learn more about the great work being done across the country in support of our fuzzy friends!

Want to apply for a forage grant? Then fill out the application here!