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Wings of Conservation: Monarch Butterflies at the Gill Tract Farm -- by Elena Hsieh (student intern)

a collage of photos depicting orange and black winged monarch butterflies on colorful flowers at Gill Tract Farm
Monarch Butterflies at Gill Tract Farm by Elena Hsieh

In today’s culture where people hustle and bustle from one place to the next, it is easy to overlook the tiny happenings of life that exist simultaneously alongside humans. Speaking for myself, I never noticed the plethora of biodiversity interspersed throughout my urban neighborhood. However, as a monarch intern at the Gill Tract farm this semester, I have been a lot more cognizant of the livelihoods of non-anthropogenic beings. For this role, one of the main tasks we carry out is taking down observations of migrating monarch butterflies on the farm and the bay area to be recorded onto data apps like iNaturalist and Survey123. Since the Xerces Society recommends observers to look for monarchs in the early morning, right when the temperature hits 55 degrees Celsius in dappled lighting atop tall trees, my team held morning observation sessions with binoculars in hand to get an accurate picture of how many monarch butterflies call the Gill Tract farm. Moments like these were particularly resonant with me because, with limited exterior sounds from the usually busy roads nearby, we were accompanied by silence and a sense of peace from the abundance of nature and life. We dutifully scanned the eucalyptus brambles to spot any flashes of orange and were able to record all of the details of the environment in both abiotic and biotic factors. In doing so, we collected and took note of all of the tiny details of life that gave Gill Tract its charm. Whether it be a tiny pupae tucked in between the brambles of milkweed plants, the tiny moth resting from flower to flower, or the flocks of geese and turkeys that frequent the land, there is an abundance of life that exists at the farm, and my role as a monarch intern opened my eyes to the beauty of life outside of human civilization.

a collage of other wildlife including butterflies, birds, and plants at Gill Tract
Other Wildlife at Gill Tract by Elena Hsieh

collage of people painting, sitting, and pointing at plants at Gill Tract Farm's Harvest Festival 2023
Harvest Fest 2023 at Gill Tract Farm by Elena Hsieh

In combination with the art collage for this project, I also co-led the monarch activity in the annual Harvest Festival. This is an event where different subsections of the Gill Tract Farm host different workshops, including composting, gardening, seed-saving, harvesting, and more to engage with the community to disseminate sustainability practices. For the monarch activity, my team hosted an art activity for the children to create a pollinator painting to hang up in the garden. We focused on a more artistic project that was semi-permanent so that the generation growing up in the garden could feel some sort of ownership over the space. We also wanted to get them more involved with the monarch plot which is quite separated from the rest of the garden. In preparation, we prepared a plywood sign to decorate for the entrance to the plot, as well as other crafts and paper projects the kids could take home. Over the course of three hours, around 20-30 kids dropped by and created their own paper butterflies, sparkly noisemakers, and pipe cleaner antennae. Many participants were children of the university village and had never been to the garden so it was a great opportunity to talk about the work we do and how to get involved. The activity was a huge success and allowed families to wander and relax as their kids were engaged in our activities. 

Overall, this project was very meaningful for me because I not only learned more about a significant species that stands as a testament to the need for biodiversity and pollination but also how it traces back to the support of the Gill Tract Farm. With the university attempting to regain the land to be built for purposes other than a community farm, the fight for the sustained land has long been backed up by the presence of monarch butterflies as a resting area on the way south for the winter. Considering the monarch butterfly populations have dipped to particularly dangerous levels as detailed by the research article ‘Monarch butterfly population decline in North America: identifying the threatening processes’, the monarch butterfly has stood as an icon for why the Gill Tract should be preserved.

Written by Elena Hsieh, student intern at Gill Tract Farm


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