Meet Thorne Rankin. She has lived in Forest Hills for 16 years. She is a landscape designer who has worked in the DC area for 40 years. And in 2017, Rankin started a nonprofit called DC Natives to create pollinator gardens across the city.
Why did you decide to start this organization?
DC Natives was born out of a recognition that supporting our environment by focusing on pollinator habitat can happen on a hyper-local basis. We wanted to address the urgent need to increase pollinator habitat in the world, focusing on building a pollinator pathway through the District.
Why focus on pollinator habitat?
Pollinators are in crisis for a variety of reasons; habitat loss, pesticide use and climate change are a few. We can do something about habitat loss and pesticide use by planting pollinator friendly spaces and ceasing the use of pesticides to prevent the collapse of our insect population.
What inspired you to focus your work to build connections across the city?
Our creation of DC Natives was a reaction to DC’s rapid gentrification, which has affected communities all over the District. It is in the spirit of bridging communities that we offer pollinator gardens as a vehicle to help nurture the environment while creating beauty for all residents, underscoring the shared environment that connects us and the importance of collaboration to improve it.
We have been fortunate in that we have connected with a diverse group of DC residents interested in promoting the long term health of pollinators in the city. We met several seniors who became partners in our backyard garden initiative at Rooting DC, the annual urban farming conference held in DC.
We met with various DC Department of Parks and Recreation employees who have been interested in partnering with us to help promote our vision in city spaces and community gardens.
My daughter worked at Washington Youth Garden and introduced us to the garden manager who asked us to help redesign and renovate the butterfly garden.
And through friends we have been asked to present a workshop online for the Anacostia Community Museum. We are open to collaborating with community groups and schools across the city.
Could you tell us about the different types of gardens you have worked on and where you have focused your efforts?
In January 2017, we met with a group of seniors who attend programs at the Therapeutic Recreation Center in Southeast. We kicked off that spring planting season with our first ten gardens at these seniors’ residences. This is our home gardens initiative. We install small gardens at homes located primarily in Ward 7.
We have worked on installing gardens in other wards as well. Across the city, we have planted over 50 of these small scattered plots which provide sources for habitat and food.
In addition, we have been working on renovating the butterfly garden at the Washington Youth Garden in The National Arboretum and a few schools that participate in the youth garden programming.
We started coordinating with the on-site garden resource instructor at two DCPS schools to design and install pollinator gardens which will support the vegetable gardens the students are learning to plant and care for, or were before the pandemic.
We have partnered with Department of Parks and Recreation to expand pollinator habitat at some of the area’s community gardens. At the Marvin Gaye Recreation Center, we have been working on a food forest/pollinator meadow.
Part of your mission is to educate. What are the most important lessons you want people to learn from participating in these pollinator garden projects?
We focus on creating habitat for our pollinators, but equally important is to educate people about the harm that lawn and yard chemicals and pesticides pose to all insects. Many residents are not yet making the connection between the mosquito treatments and lawn care chemicals and the threats to insects and pollinators. These pesticides do not discriminate between butterflies, bees, fireflies and mosquitoes. They are extremely toxic to all insects.
What about Ward 3? What would you like to accomplish here?
We recently started a new initiative, DC Natives’ Block-By-Block Program. It will build pollinator habitats in private gardens to increase sustainable biodiversity in the District of Columbia and include environmental and garden education.
So far we are working with groups in River Terrace, Eastland Gardens and Deanwood. And we would like to bring this initiative to Ward 3 including Forest Hills, as well as other wards throughout the city.