BY JULIE GRAY
Sean and Denise Breeden-Ost, owners of Getty’s Creek Farm, have long sold mushrooms and vegetables at the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market. But if you stop by their stand this year, you’ll discover they are offering milkweed, a plant most people wouldn’t think you could even give away, let alone sell.
It’s not that the two are marketing wizards seeking to buff the image of what used to be a relatively common plant. Rather, they are conservationists who want to save monarch butterflies. Milkweed and monarchs are inextricably linked. Milkweed is the only plant on which monarchs lay their eggs and the only food source for developing monarch caterpillars. As milkweed disappears — due to urban sprawl, intensive farming, and the widespread use of herbicides — so, too, do its gorgeous black-and-orange guests. Over the last 20 years, the monarch population has plummeted, from 1 billion to 35 million.
But there are ways to save the monarch. “The thing that people can do right now is plant milkweed and other nectaring plants in their yards to provide a safe haven,” Sean says. The Breeden-Osts are making that easy. Not only are they selling individual milkweed plants, they’re also offering Monarch Habitat Kits containing a collection of flowering plants the butterflies love, along with instructions on where and how to plant and care for them. Each kit contains zinnias, cosmos, Mexican sunflower, purple coneflower, Blazing Star, and two species of milkweed — Asclepias incarnata and syriaca.
Sean became fascinated with monarchs as a boy when he and his brother found a chrysalis and watched it become a butterfly. “I think that’s when my love affair started,” he explains. Monarchs famously migrate, in generational waves, from Mexico to Canada.
The Breeden-Osts are not alone in their concern for the monarch. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced that it would invest $4 million in a 10-state effort to help farmers plant milkweed. Indiana is among the states that will receive technical and financial assistance.
But thanks to the Breeden-Osts, Bloomingtonians don’t have to go any farther than the Farmers’ Market to start saving the monarch.