Feeding Tomorrow: Caroline M. Works to Protect Agricultural Economy and Ensure Greater Food Supply Through Pollination
For her Gold Award project, Caroline M. from Girl Scouts of Northeastern New York, planted pollinator-friendly gardens around the solar panels in her town of Niskayuna to create the first municipal solar pollinator in New York State, which is home to more than 450 pollinator species that are currently under threat from habitat loss and fragmentation, colony collapse disorder, parasites, exposure to toxins, and other stressors.
In 2016, it was estimated New York State had lost 50 percent of its managed pollinator colonies and 70 percent of its commercial migratory bees. Wild pollinators have also seen their numbers suffer, with the Department of Environmental Conservation listing seven species of bees and 27 species of butterflies or moths as being Species of Greatest Conservation Need. And since New York has 7.3 million acres in agriculture production, many of its leading crops, such as apples alfalfa, soybeans, cabbage, pumpkins, and berries, rely heavily on pollination.
The planting efforts of Caroline and her team of middle school Girl Scouts increases the much-needed pollinator population, such as bees and birds, protects the agricultural economy, ensures greater local food supply security, and beautifies the entire area. She also advocated for $300,000 in state funding for pollinator benefit programs so her pioneering solutions can expand into new healthy growth for New York and beyond.
Q: Why did you choose this topic for your Gold Award Project?
A: Local residents in my town were calling for more town land to be set aside for pollinator habitats. Not only did I agree with their idea, but I knew how to make it happen—and I did.
Our troop’s Sew What Journey created a pollinator garden near a walking path in a town park.
The project drew the praise of local environmentalists, town officials, and the media. Through my contacts and interest in the local environmental advocacy community, I learned about a national effort to create pollinator gardens at solar arrays. That was it!
Using the contacts developed at town hall, I went to work on creating solar pollinator gardens at the town solar arrays. Through my research, I learned my idea would make mine the first municipal solar garden in the state.
As I became more involved in advocacy on behalf of pollinator protection, I learned there were two programs in the state that could benefit from state funding. So, my work continued. I contacted and met with the governor, chairs of the New York State Senate and Assembly Agriculture Committees, state legislative staff, and my local state legislators. I also engaged younger scouts in the effort and gained media attention.
To be honest, I never thought I would attempt the Gold Award. Throughout the years, I had seen very few Girl Scouts in my area receive the award and those who did tackled issues that were not at all geared toward my greatest interest—local community action. However, during the completion of the Sew What Journey that I led for my troop, something changed. I saw how I could put some of my strongest skills and interests to work.
Q: How has your project been successful, and how have you worked to
ensure it is sustainable?
A: Loss of pollinators can impact the value of New York State's agricultural production, which currently totals $6.36 billion, and would seriously diminish this pillar of the state's economy which provides 197,745 jobs.
This is why I established the first municipal solar pollinator gardens in the state and worked to secure state funding to research and protect pollinators as well as the impact of solar gardens, including minimum guidelines for biodiversity and land management practices.
These efforts will help to secure local food sources and can serve as a model for national and international efforts. And while wild flowers require very little maintenance, I recruited middle school girl scouts to help sustain the program.
Q: How did working on your Gold Award project changed you?
A: It made me a better advocate, communicator, researcher and consensus builder. It also reminded me not to fear failure and to always be intellectually curious.
Q: What have you learned from being a Girl Scout?
A: The commitment to volunteerism and civic leadership I have learned through Girl Scouts are the guiding principles of my life. The people I have met through my Girl Scout experiences are mentors and friends who have helped me build courage, confidence and character. That is why, when it was time to launch a Gold Award project, I knew I wanted to take an action on the local level that could have far-reaching impact. I took the lessons learned and connections made through my scouting career and applied them to address—in a sustainable way—a local issue with state, national and global implications.
The issue of food source security through pollinator protection not only addresses the global issues of hunger and environmental protection. My work also secured $300,000 in state funding for pollinator benefit programs and made my town the first in New York State to create municipal solar gardens. All of this allowed me to put to work my advocacy skills developed through Girl Scout efforts such as Girls at the Capitol in 2016 and 2018, and the National Convention in Columbus, Ohio in 2017.
Through my role as a Gold Award Girl Scout, I have also become an advocate for the Girl Scout movement. I have addressed younger Girl Scout troops about the importance of scouting, attended an event with New York's lieutenant governor for the launch of a new badge, and completed interviews for the local media about the Gold Award itself, its history, and its importance.