The city of Cedar Falls, Iowa, is renowned across the state for its rich variety of outdoor recreational opportunities and resources. A member of Tree City USA for over 40 years and a certified Bird-Friendly community, Cedar Falls is home to the Hartman Reserve Nature Center, the North Cedar Natural Resource Project, and the Big Woods Lake Recreational Area. The true heartbeat of the community, however, comes from the people that make these efforts possible. From dedicated City staff to citizens, young leaders, and local organizations, the collaboration of ideas and commitment to caring helps create a bright future in Cedar Falls.
For Nadia Patel, a junior at Cedar Falls High School, that future is too precious to put off. As head of the student organization, the Monarch Club, Nadia has been committed to finding ways to increase the declining Monarch butterfly population. Aided by the City Parks team, Nadia made it her mission to create more pollinator-friendly habitats across the city through strategically located milkweed plantings.
"This project was my way of addressing multiple challenges simultaneously," said Nadia. "The goal was to create pollinator-friendly habitats to help Monarchs by planting milkweed. This would then enhance pollination to help increase produce output. Additionally, we used recycled pig manure to improve the soil so that we could reduce the impact of this waste."
"I was deeply concerned about the decreasing Monarch butterfly populations. These majestic creatures play a vital role in pollination, which in turn, affects our agricultural produce. As a high schooler, I could see the connection between the decrease in Monarch populations and its impact on the environment and food security. It was a challenge I felt compelled to address."
She would first need a pilot site to test her idea.
"We started at the Northeast Iowa Food Bank's vegetable garden," Nadia said. "Milkweeds were strategically planted in this garden to provide Monarchs with a nurturing environment. We are thrilled to share that in a delightful coincidence, this year the food bank witnessed a remarkable increase in the garden's produce yielding over 12,000 pounds harvested or 10,000 meals!"
"While the increase in yield may be coincidental, it serves as a testament to the power of sustainable and eco-friendly initiatives."
Following the successful launch of the project at the food bank, Nadia sought additional suitable sites for planting.
"We planted milkweed, the vital host plant for Monarchs, at very deliberate locations in Cedar Falls including Clay Street Park, the Hearst Center for the Arts, Central Park, and the State Street area by the river," said Nadia. "These places were carefully chosen to ensure that Monarchs could find refuge and sustenance as they journeyed through our community."
In order to successfully implement the habitats in such a variety of locations, Nadia turned to the City Parks team including Parks Supervisor Brett Morris and Horticulturist Doug Miller for assistance.
"The City Parks team played a pivotal role in getting our project off the ground," said Nadia. "They have a wealth of knowledge and their guidance helped us make informed decisions about planting and maintaining the habitat. Their collaborative spirit has been a driving force behind the Monarch Club's success, and their partnership continues to make a lasting impact on Cedar Falls and the environment. I'm grateful for their collaborative support as it truly helps bring the issue that we all face in our community to the forefront."
Nadia hopes to continue to increase the work of the Monarch Club in the coming year by spreading awareness of the importance of creating pollinator-friendly areas in the city so that more members of the community can take part in this key mission.
"It's about making Monarch conservation a visible and shared effort, where everyone can take part in preserving these iconic butterflies and the environment they call home," Nadia concluded. "This project was more than just a garden: It was a testament to the power of creative solutions. It showcased that environmental action can be a win-win-win solution. Our efforts benefit the environment, help combat the decreasing Monarch population, and address food insecurity in our community. It's a holistic approach to conservation and sustainability that we are proud to be a part of."