Eugene Cooke is the founder of Grow Where You Are, a dynamic full-service social enterprise in the field of local food systems. Grow Where You Are partners with organizations and individuals to bring food abundance to communities and those who value real food, designing, installing, and maintaining multiple public and private spaces where food is produced using Agro-Ecological principles.
Part of those principles include valuing all aspects of ecology.
“Everything that we do looks at the entire ecology of the system, including insects, animals, people, natural resources, water,” said Cooke.
Though every day brings about new challenges, Cooke is concerned about harmful practices impacting pollinators, as well as protecting pollinators as urban gardening takes a stronger foothold in the economy. His gardens always take into account ways to help our airborne allies by creating small oases where pollinators can rest, reproduce, and access plenty of food and water.
“We grow large, tall sunflowers, we grow mint close to the ground, yarrow, zinnias, marigolds, all to attract pollinators,” said Cooke. “Once they get to the garden, they find beans, okra and all of that.”
Cooke was kind enough to chat with us about a few tips urban gardeners can take to ensure pollinators have a place to thrive despite the tough, city conditions:
- Plant sunflowers
- Sunflowers aren’t just a treat for the human eye, they’re also incredibly valuable to the ecology of a garden. “Plant a lot of sunflowers because they heal the soil and they’re a good, tall beacon for pollinators,” said Cooke.
- Plant fruit trees
- Fruit trees have numerous benefits and are a powerful example of a balanced ecology. “We plant as many fruit trees as we can so that every year they blossom, the powerful fragrance attracts a lot of pollinators, and then we get the fruit,” said Cooke. “That’s when you really see how one hand washes the other.”
- Plant native flowers
- Native flowers help native pollinators find comfortable places to rest and reproduce, especially during migration. “When native plants like wild blackberries, amaranth, pigweed, and goldenrod grow all the way to flower, it brings native bees in,” said Cooke. “It also brings in migrating natives that don’t have a place to stop anymore.”
- Take care of groundnesting bees
- Not all bees live in hives, particularly native bees. “You want to be conscious of groundnesting bees, and squash or blueberries are perfect plants for those kinds of pollinators,” said Cooke.
- Cut down on pesticide and herbicide use