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A Pollinator Champion Turns Her Boise Home Into A Paradise For Bees, Birds, And Butterflies

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Gustavo Sagrero
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Jessica Harrold looks out over her small farm where she grows all her own food and has plenty left over for the bees, birds, and butterflies.

Jessica Harrold has had a very busy summer. Her work at the Ada Soil and Water Conservation District led to the creation of the Treasure Valley Pollinator Project where hundreds of people planted 64-thousand pollinator-friendly flowers around the Treasure Valley.

Today I introduce you to a Pollinator Champion, who has turned her life, and her land, into a paradise for pollinators.

Over time, she has changed her way of life completely, to the point where she grows and harvests all her own food, including fruit, vegetables and meat. But her main mission has always been creating habitat for pollinators. Every square inch of space around her home is growing some kind of flower or herb to feed the birds, butterflies and the bees...

Samantha Wright: Oh, I hear a bee!

Jessica Harrold: Yeah, there was one!

Samantha Wright: And when I drove up, a butterfly came over.

Jessica Harrold: I just sent out the welcoming party, glad she found you.

Jessica Harrold: Yep, it really starts poppin' in the summertime and then...

Samantha Wright: Roses and then...Oh, I see berries.

Jessica Harrold: Lots of berries.

Samantha Wright: Oh, my gosh. Yeah, over there. What berries do you have?

Jessica Harrold: These are Blackberries, they're extra prolific, especially this year. So...

Samantha Wright: Look at them all!

Jessica Harrold: Mm hmm. And these we make into jam. You want some?

Samantha Wright: Sure. I'll take a blackberry. Thank you.

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Gustavo Sagrero
These delicious blackberries grow on Jessica Harrold's farm. She harvests a lot of them, but always leaves plenty behind for birds.

Jessica Harrold: Mm hmm.

Samantha Wright: Oh, that is delicious! Real blackberries!

Jessica Harrold: All of this was a garden with the house originally, then had turned to grass and so when we moved in, we plowed up all of this for our garden again and then started to expand outward. And then the most recent flower creep was we put those new garden boxes in this year and that gave us an extra one hundred and fifty square feet of planting space. So, all of this back garden will be our herbs and flowers, and then we just grow food for ourselves. Mostly the vegetables. So...

Samantha Wright: You really have a lot in what, you know, when you at first glance looks like a small space. But it's not that small when you get in here.

Jessica Harrold: Not when you're weeding it, then it feels huge.[laughter]. So then we also grow our own peaches and fruits that go into our jams.

Samantha Wright: Wow.

Jessica Harrold: Yeah.

Samantha Wright: That's cool. Oh, look at the grapes! Are these going to be red or green?

Jessica Harrold: There's a whole variety planted in here. We've got some Concord's which we turn to grape jelly and the rest--oh, there's some purple table grapes--and the rest are just different varieties. I think there's some champagne grapes here or some other red varieties that I don't know what they are. And sometimes we try to make wine, but a lot of times we just leave these grapes for the birds.

Samantha Wright: Mm hmm. What's over there?

Jessica Harrold: A lot of catnip. Catnip and catmint both really beloved by bees and also beloved by my cats.

Samantha Wright: Wow.

Jessica Harrold: And that's one of the ones that spreads like crazy too, the catnip. So it's everywhere. It's kind of like a weed in our garden. But, you know, you could either have that or you could have other weeds. So we just let it grow until we get ambitious. And here we have our catmint. It is lovely. And you get several blooms on it throughout the year, too.

Samantha Wright: And I'm guessing the pollinators like this?

Jessica Harrold: Mm hmm. They do.

Samantha Wright: Nice.

Jessica Harrold: And then more mint. Look how hoppin’ our mint is over here with all these little tiny bees.

Samantha Wright: I see that...

Jessica Harrold: ...like extra tiny. Oh, we've got little baby wasps over here, too.

Samantha Wright: Oh, my goodness... all right...

Jessica Harrold: Ok.

Samantha Wright: Rock and roll.

Jessica Harrold: Come on Phoebe! Whoop. [Phoebe is Jessica’s “Tiny Farm Dog”]

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Gustavo Sagrero
This onion popped up in the middle of Jessica's steps and true to her "Pollinator Champion" title she left it there for the pollinators.

Samantha Wright: Oh, my goodness, what is this thing?

Jessica Harrold: Some kind of onion? I don't know, I just let it go.

Samantha Wright: It's an onion! Ok, so I just want to point this out, that you have grown an onion or a volunteer onion, I'm guessing...

Jessica Harrold: Yeah.

Samantha Wright: An onion has volunteered to grow in the middle of your steps...

Jessica Harrold: Yes...

Samantha Wright: From your lower to your upper yard, literally in the middle...and it's grown in the middle and it's pretty much in the way...but you left it there...

Jessica Harrold: Yeah [laughter]

Samantha Wright: ...because it grew there.

Jessica Harrold: I was kind of curious to see what the blossom would look like. And ...yeah, I could walk around it. I don't know... it's cute.

Samantha Wright: It is cute! You let it live!

Jessica Harrold: Yeah!

Samantha Wright: See, your average person going up, you know, stairs would have ripped this out because it is in the way.

Jessica Harrold: Mm hmm.

Samantha Wright: And instead, we just go around it and it's beautiful.

Jessica Harrold: Yeah!

Samantha Wright: Well, this is part of...this is what you are now. I mean, no really, you were telling me last time that you have turned as much of your land as you can into either things you can use, things you can eat or things that the rest of nature can have.

Jessica Harrold: Mm hmm. Yep. It was really important to us.

Samantha Wright: Did you ever plan that you would be doing all of this?

Jessica Harrold: No, actually, my dad thinks that I was the least likely of all of his kids to be involved in agriculture. And I guess it isn't like the traditional type of agriculture that he might have thought of. No, I didn't think I would be at all. It took a while for me to find a type of AG, but fit too. That's the thing, is that when I was growing up, I didn't know that...that there was like other types of AG out there. The only AG I was really familiar with was really large scale, you know, with lots of tractors and big animals and machinery. And that wasn't really my thing. So I like this more... small scale connected to the earth agriculture, where I feel...it's just more personal, I guess? And I like creating like this...big equipment isn't my thing. But I can certainly plant flowers and....finding what works for you, what type of animals work for you or plants is really fun. I've tried a ton of stuff, and now I feel really comfortable with what I'm doing. And I think that people just getting out there, if they're interested, you know, you might try something and hate it, and that's OK. And then you can just go find a different animal that fits your farm better or different crop.

Samantha Wright: So was this a slow process to get to this point or was there like a light bulb at some point that went off or an event?

Jessica Harrold: I feel like it's always been slow. I just try to grow every year and not add more than I can handle. And somehow it always seems to happen. But then you get more comfortable with it. And I think as long as you're always pushing yourself, you know, to do a bit more. Right? Just becoming slowly better at things and once you're more comfortable, then you feel more comfortable adding on stuff, too.

Samantha Wright: So it doesn't have to be all at once, you can ease into it...

Jessica Harrold: Oh, for sure! Right? And I talk to people about that with local food and changing their diet to be more local. You don't have to do it all at once. And that's overwhelming and impossible. You change one thing that you want about your diet, maybe you only buy organic produce or maybe you only buy organic, you know, tomatoes. It could just be one thing or you grow your own herbs and that's how you start. Or you are like, well, I'm only going to eat local meat...if where your meat comes from is super important to you. I think that's a big one that people can tackle. If it's local meat, you can eat it. And if it's not, you can't.

Jessica Harrold: Hi, guys! [higher pitch, speaking to turkey's crowing in background]

Samantha Wright: Hello! Hello! Oh, my gosh you have turkeys!

Jessica Harrold: Yeah. I'll turn off the fan so it'll be easier to hear...

Samantha Wright: What's going on little turkey?

Jessica Harrold: So, we raised them up in here, so they're warm. Turkeys are kind of sensitive to wind and cold temperatures. So being in the barn with the rabbits gives them that shelter that they need. And then they have their chicken babysitters in there, too. The chickens help them know when it's time to go to bed, because we had a couple of years where they would sleep out in the field instead of going to bed. So they each have some chickens to bond to.

Samantha Wright: I see that!

Jessica Harrold: And it keeps them, you know, in line [laughter]. And they just roam the pasture together and they're really adorable.

Samantha Wright: Wow...and they roam the pasture and then what happens?

Jessica Harrold: And then we sell them for Thanksgiving dinners...[laughter]

Samantha Wright: Nice...

Jessica Harrold: Yeah, we raise about 140 turkeys each year... we have to raise them in two batches because we don't have enough space anywhere to raise 140 all at once. But I'm just kind of layering our operation out, so...let's go see the herb gardens!

Samantha Wright: You got it.

Jessica Harrold: This is lemon balm, this is one of my favorite herbs. This is one of my favorite summertime cool tea drinks.

Samantha Wright: This is an awesome smell.

Jessica Harrold: Really great with honey.

Samantha Wright: Oh, lavender...

Jessica Harrold: Yeah. Now we've got our second kind of lavender blooming and we have tons. So we'll probably leave most of this second bloom for the bees. We left a good portion of it for them in the very beginning, too. But if I don't need it, I try not to harvest it. So...

Samantha Wright: What's this one?

Jessica Harrold: Sunflower.

Samantha Wright: Really? He's cute!

Jessica Harrold: Yeah! Lots of little baby sunflowers. Bees are particularly fond of them.

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Gustavo Sagrero
Bees of all shapes and sizes love Jessica's small farm. Each year she tries out new plants in her garden to see if she, and the pollinators, like each one.

Samantha Wright: Beautiful. Oh, you got a butterfly? Look at all the bees!

Jessica Harrold: Right?

Samantha Wright: Talk about pollinators!

Jessica Harrold: Tons of bees always around here. And lots of moths as well.

Samantha Wright: So what are these?

Jessica Harrold: Well, they're black-eyed susans...

Samantha Wright: aren't they beautiful!

Jessica Harrold: We've just completely let them take over our irrigation ditch. And they spread like crazy. And the bees really love them.

Samantha Wright: Mint?

Jessica Harrold: Mm hmm.

Samantha Wright: Gotcha. Gotcha.

Jessica Harrold: It's really gotten out of hand. The bees love it. So I've just kind of let it go.

Samantha Wright: You're always thinking about the bees and the birds and the other pollinators.

Jessica Harrold: They're really important. And it's a difference that I think we can all make. So I was going to make a difference and now I like to show other people that they can do it, too. And if we're all doing this on some level in our gardens, then, you know, we're all helping.

[Phoebe the dog rustles around in the mint and pants happily.]