By Pinar O’Flaherty and Haven Colgate
Hastings-on-Hudson, NY has long prided itself on its environmental record. Active residents have succeeded in many initiatives, from recycling programs, awareness campaigns, and expanding alternative energy installations to establishing a community composting program and ecological restorations, and they have helped the town become one of only seven municipalities achieving silver status in the state’s Climate Smart Communities program. It was only a matter of time before Hastings residents would form the Hastings Pollinator Pathway (HPP).
The pandemic presented our small volunteer group of residents the time and opportunity to kick off the effort. Meeting weekly on Zoom, we researched pollinator pathway programs in other communities and set out on a mission to encourage residents to devote some space to native pollinator plants. We launched the Hastings Pollinator Pathway website in July, later adding a Facebook group, an Instagram account, and created a monthly newsletter to share resources and spread the word on area programs. We liaised with our Village trustees to include native plants in municipal construction projects and helped launch and promote a new Adopt-a-Spot program to give residents a formal way to install pollinator gardens on traffic islands, roadside verges and park corners.
Our goal is to increase pollinator habitat and to create pathways between large green spaces to assist pollinators in their migrations. Since the bulk of our Village land is residential yards, we set out to encourage homeowners to add native pollinating plants to their gardens. Our target gardens range from potted plants on apartment-dwelling balconies to half-acre residential properties, area business and institutional properties, and municipal ones, including Hastings’ public parks. HPP project members spent the summer walking residential streets, scouting for existing pollinator gardens and noting the most critical gaps in habitat. We wrote hundreds of postcards to ask residents to add their gardens to their pathway map and join the HPP project, regardless of their garden’s current status. Nearly one hundred residents added themselves to our map, self-classifying into one of four categories, from “I’m not sure how to get started” to “my yard is pollinator heaven.” They included enthusiastic comments like, “I am super excited to find a way to help support our ecosystem in my own yard. I am going pesticide free, and working on incorporating more and more native plants! Next step is to de-lawn the grassy areas.” The HPP was thrilled by the positive response, but what really stood out for them were comments like, “How can I help?” and, perhaps most importantly, “I’m so excited about this, but I need help.”
We created the Pollineighbor program to answer the two questions: “how can I help?” and “how can I get started?” We cross-referenced comments with the village map and began matching neighbors in need with their closest Pollineighbor, sometimes even recruiting those with established gardens who hadn’t yet volunteered. We now have online forms on our site for easy sign-up to offer expertise as a Pollineighbor or connect with one if you need direction. Pollineighbors offer a range of support, from advice on what to plant to sharing plants and seeds from their own gardens, and sometimes even some hands-on, “how-to” help. We find that neighbors talking to neighbors establishes the most pollinator-friendly, native-rich gardens, and that gardens influence other gardeners. This is a new program, so we are always looking for new Pollineighbors and encourage anyone with enthusiasm and knowledge to share to sign up! You don’t have to be an expert on native plants or have an exclusively native garden to participate. We just ask that you’re committed to being pesticide free and open to learning and sharing about the benefits of planting natives for pollinators.
With spring in mind, additional Pollineighbor program plans are in the works, including in-garden demos, a village pathway parade, a seed exchange, and other events - pandemic permitting - through which gardeners, expert or novice, can meet to share tips, seeds, plants, and more. The HPP envisions a post-pandemic time when “garden-raising” events can bring neighbors together to help expand existing gardens or help new pollinator gardeners create habitats from the grassroots up. Most passionate gardeners can recall time spent side-by-side with a more experienced gardener, digging, sowing and planting in the dirt. Pollineighbors grow more than gardens.