Help the planet from your own yard

A nonprofit farm in Cedar Grove, N.J., is making it easy for area residents to help the monarch butterfly, an important pollinator whose existence is threatened by loss of habitat and climate change.

Morgan’s Farm, part of the Cedar Grove Historical Society, already has hundreds of milkweed plants available for preorder on its website. Residents will be able to plant the milkweed in their yards or in pots, with the hopes of attracting monarchs and improving their chances for survival in the United States.

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“The monarchs could be gone in our lifetime if we don’t start increasing their habitats one garden at a time,” said John Ostering, the farmer who runs the Pompton Avenue property, which dates to the mid-1800s.

Most people recognize the orange and black monarchs, one of our largest butterflies, when the monarchs visit Essex County in the summer and early fall, but not everyone is aware of the important role they and other pollinators, like bees and birds, play in our environment.

Pollinators are responsible for reproduction in 90% of the world’s flowering plants, including food crops, by spreading pollen from flower to flower, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They help to preserve our food supply and support our ecosystem.

And pollinators need host plants – for monarchs, it’s milkweed. Monarch moms lay their eggs on milkweed, their food source. The eggs hatch and tiny caterpillars emerge; they eat milkweed voraciously for a week or two before forming a chrysalis, where they will grow into a butterfly.

Native milkweed plants that are not treated with pesticides can be difficult to find in our area, and monarch caterpillars can strip the leaves from a plant quickly as they grow. Ostering and his all-volunteer crew are offering plants at $2.50 to $6 each, with options for bulk purchases. As spring nears, other native plants, most as beautiful as they are useful, will also be available from the farm.

Many people know monarchs because of the extraordinary journey the last generation makes every year. Unable to survive our winters, they travel as far as 3,000 miles south to spend the winter in the mountains of central Mexico. In the spring, those monarchs will head north again, producing generations of offspring to repeat the process.

Although monarchs would qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act because their numbers have declined so dramatically, they failed to make the list in December, in part because there are more than 160 species in line ahead of them.