Sacred Grounds Promotes Community, Faith and Wildlife in Toledo
For the faith community in Toledo, purple coneflowers and milkweed represent more than habitat for native bumblebees and monarch butterflies, though they are that, too. For the Toledo faith leaders participating in the National Wildlife Federation’s Sacred Grounds program, native rain and plant gardens are a place for peace.
“We started a Prayer Park right around our facility, and it was for the purpose of people in the community who didn’t feel like they could come to church,” said Pastor Mike Key of the People’s Missionary Baptist Church. “We tried to prepare a place where they feel like they can go and leave prayer requests or just calm and meditate, or even if they’re in some type of trouble they can come and just calm down.”
Pastor Mike, as he goes by, was part of a group of faith leaders who joined a bus tour of neighborhood and backyard rain gardens and pollinator habitat in the city organized by the National Wildlife Federation Great Lakes Regional Center and Beatrice Miringu, senior environmental specialist for the City of Toledo.
Sacred Grounds is a pilot project from the National Wildlife Federation to support Garden for Wildlife projects at houses of worship, starting with a pilot program in Toledo with support from the Toledo Community Foundation.
“The Sacred Grounds Toledo team includes 10 individuals representing six community-based organizations and entities working together with NWF to provide resources and technical support for 11 Toledo area houses of worship to plan, implement, and maintain wildlife habitats,” said Manja Holland, Regional Education Managers for the National Wildlife Federation. “In supporting the unique visions and interests of each house of worship, our intended outcome is that these efforts will help faith-based communities form new networks to support healthy habitats and communities.”
Green Space Benefits People
The green spaces supported by Sacred Grounds serve multiple purposes: community health, biodiversity and stormwater management.
Recent research shows that high-quality green spaces, no matter how small, is correlated with mental well-being in individuals and neighborhood satisfaction by the community. One of the factors for “high-quality” green space is biodiversity, according to this recent Time article.
This concept was dramatically brought to life in a mural at Wilson Park in Toledo, depicting “Strength, Justice, Peace, Destiny, Hope, Love Happiness inside a rainbow with a park full of wildflowers — and monarch butterflies — with two people extending hands out to the darker world around them. As faith leaders toured the park, they were shown a tree planted as part of the city’s “Guns to Gardens” program, using a shovel forged out of metal from melted illegal firearms.
Sacred Grounds Plantings Help Wildlife
Those monarch butterflies illustrate the second purpose of Sacred Grounds, partnering with houses of worship to provide habitat for declining pollinator species like monarchs and native bees. Monarch butterfly populations have declined an estimated 90 percent in the last two decades due to habitat loss, pesticide use, and climate change. When they migrate north from Mexico, they need plants like milkweed to survive. As a long-rooted native plant, milkweed was abundant in the rain gardens toured, and monarchs were using them. The loss of milkweed plants and other native nectar plants throughout the monarch’s range is a major cause of the monarch decline. As Sacred Grounds grow, so too will milkweed and, hopefully, monarch populations.
Native bees are also in trouble. As prolific pollinators, they are essential to plant and food growth in the United States. Pesticides and habitat loss have their populations declining worldwide, though. At a residential rain garden on the tour, faith leaders observed native bumblebees on purple coneflowers. At the Grace Community Center in Toledo, the pollinator habitat provided by a rain garden helps increase the productivity of their community vegetable garden.
Additionally, long-stemmed native plants in rain gardens help manage stormwater runoff to reduce flooding in heavy rain events.
Local Habitat Efforts Provide Hope for People, Wildlife
The symbiosis between community well-being and biodiversity was on full display during the Sacred Grounds rain garden tour. Ultimately, if the community goals are successful, the biodiversity goals will be, too.
“We see a lot of blight in our community and we just want to clean up abandoned houses and the things that attract drug dealing and all the other things that we don’t want in our community,” Pastor Mike said when asked what he hopes for the future of Sacred Grounds in the community. “We want to clean it up and create some green space that the community can even gather in and have picnics and just come and sit and converse, play chess or whatever, and it will be a focal point in our community.”
To learn more about Sacred Grounds, visit www.nwf.org/sacredgrounds or email NWF Habitat and Education Manager Manja Holland at HollandM@nwf.org or Tiffany Carey, Habitat and Education Coordinator, at CareyT@nwf.org.