Agriculture

RAGBRAI riders asked to throw milkweed seed balls for monarchs

Team raising awareness about the decline of butterflies

Annabelle, 7, and Ava, Macek of Marion form “milkweed balls” made of wildflower seeds and mud at Ecofest in NewBo City Market in downtown Cedar Rapids on Saturday, Apr. 23, 2016. The fest featured demonstrations and activities in honor of Earth Day, which was on Friday, Apr. 22. Monarchs of Eastern Iowa sponsored the activity, with the goal of creating 35,000 milkweed balls to distribute to riders during RAGBRAI. Riders toss the balls into ditches and places where the group hopes to expand the habitat for monarch butterflies. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Annabelle, 7, and Ava, Macek of Marion form “milkweed balls” made of wildflower seeds and mud at Ecofest in NewBo City Market in downtown Cedar Rapids on Saturday, Apr. 23, 2016. The fest featured demonstrations and activities in honor of Earth Day, which was on Friday, Apr. 22. Monarchs of Eastern Iowa sponsored the activity, with the goal of creating 35,000 milkweed balls to distribute to riders during RAGBRAI. Riders toss the balls into ditches and places where the group hopes to expand the habitat for monarch butterflies. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Team Milkweed Matters is riding RAGBRAI next week asking riders to help monarch butterflies by tossing milkweed seed balls along the roadside.

The goal is for the seed balls to take root and increase habitat, which could help reverse severe declines in many pollinator species.

“Milkweed plays an important role in the life cycle of the monarch butterfly because adult monarchs lay their eggs exclusively on species in the milkweed family and the larvae feed only on those plants,” Elizabeth Hill, a founder of Milkweed Matters, said in a news release.

Kelly Guilbeau of Grinnell also leads the initiative, which is in its second year. The organization has held 30 events around the state where 2,000 Iowans, including elementary school students, scouting organizations, nursing home residents and corporate teams, learned about the plight of Monarch butterflies. The group prepared 50,000 milkweed seed balls, which are made up of a soil-clay mixture and common milkweed seeds from Iowa roadsides, according to the group.

Volunteers from Monarchs in Eastern Iowa are to staff information booths beginning Saturday and then each day of RAGBRAI to distribute 6,000 seed balls per day. The Register’s Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa is a 420-mile trek across Iowa that begins Sunday in Glenwood and concludes July 30 in Muscatine.

Booths are to be located in Glenwood on Saturday, Malvern on Sunday, 1.5 miles north of Bethesda on Barbara and Stan Johnson’s farm on Monday, Mount Ayr on Tuesday, Humeston on Wednesday, Moravia on Thursday, 2 miles east of Hayesville on Annie Arduser’s farm on July 29 and Columbus Junction on July 30.

At Grinnell College, Guilbeau works as assistant director of advising and exploration in the Center for Careers, Life and Service and Hill manages the Conard Environmental Research Area and is outreach coordinator of the Center for Prairie Studies. They are riding in RAGBRAI with Tim Gilbertson, of Cedar Rapids, calling themselves Team Milkweed Matters.

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