Jonesborough woman does her part to bring back the monarch butterfly, a healthy insect population

Tony Casey • Sep 6, 2015 at 12:00 AM

Frances Lamberts’ one-acre farm in Jonesborough is filled with what she calls “critters.”

The last thing she wants to do is get rid of them, as is, in her opinion, the popular — but wrong — thing to do.

“I’m super happy to see them,” Lamberts says of her little friends, which come to munch on and reside in the native trees, wildflowers and vines she plants for them.

Since turning her property from a five-tree plot into an approximately 150-tree farm in 1979, with all the fixings of a proper self-sufficient, “green” living and gardening place, she’s always emphasized giving back to nature, which has given so much to her.

Having grown up in Germany in a similar situation, Lamberts actively works her piece of property to help critters large and small, even having it designateda certified Monarch Waystation.

Several times a week, Lamberts leaves her farm to work with Jonesborough’s Arboretum and Butterfly Garden, an organization in which she takes pride in belonging. The goal is simple: give back to nature, which will, in turn, forever better her property, which she calls “her paradise.”

Lamberts’ paradise includes rows and rows of raised beds, a pond for her ducks, a fenced-off area for her sheep and more than 30 native species of trees for the insects that are a massive part of the food chain in a healthy ecosystem.

“It’s the native trees that the insects have adapted to,” she said about some of her favorite plants and the flies, caterpillars, butterflies and other insects that attach to the leaves, stems and branches.

A tour of Lamberts’ gardens reveals her brain to be an encyclopedia and the vehicle from which her passion for the environment stems.

Not only does she do her talking through her shovelfuls of compost, but with her words. When there’s a green-related cause, she takes to her keyboard and lets her opinion be heard, urging her fellow environment-loving citizens to do the same.

“No food, no life is an axiom whose significance the Department of Agriculture, above all, surely apprehends and must consider in the case of monarch butterflies, as of our other pollinator insects,” wrote Lamberts to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which is a part of the Department of Agriculture.

Recently, Lamberts has focused much of her efforts on the monarch butterfly, which had gone from an average wintering tree area coverage of 26 acres in the late 1990s, for five straight years, to two acres in 2013. This equated to a 90 percent population decline, frightening numbers for the Jonesborough gardener.

The issue caught President Barack Obama’s attention earlier this year, and the federal government pledged $3.2 million to help: giving $2 million of that money to help restore 200,000 acres, with the remaining $1.2 million going to a conservation fund. The goal is to ease monarch butterfly migration to Mexico every year.

Doing her part — and encouraging others to do the same — has been fruitful for Lamberts, who has planted several plots of milkweed on her property. Milkweed is the exclusive plant on which the black and orange butterfly will lay its eggs. So, the more available milkweed, the better chance for a strong monarch butterfly population.

Strolling from milkweed patch to milkweed patch shows the plan has worked. Dozens of butterfly species and monarch caterpillars are attached to the plants, often munching away at the leaves, which is a good sign, Lamberts said.

Her goal is to talk Tennessee’s Department of Transportation and local schools into planting masses of milkweed along state highways and in selected fields to help bring the populations back where they need to be.

If there’s an enemy of this change, Lamberts figures it’s the big businesses and farms that produce and use pesticides for their mass-produced cash crops that take up so much space across the country. Whereas these crops, soy, for example, might have been genetically modified to fight off the pesticides, the traditional milkweed is not, and dies off under what Lamberts calls “the poison.”

And anyone can help do their part, she argues, by planting a patch of traditional milkweed in their yard, or by getting involved in organizations like the Jonesborough’s Arboretum and Butterfly Garden.

Email Tony Casey at [email protected] Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.

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