Nadia Ruffin, MS, is an entomologist, gardener and educator. She is the founder of Agricademy Inc, Quiwi Produce, and Urban Farm Sista based in Cincinatti, Ohio. In 2018 a resolution from Cincinnati City Council honored Nadia’s farming and agriculture initiatives the primary focus of which is to share her knowledge and passion for the biological world and all that it offers to us in the way of endless and healthy wonder, food, beauty, and learning.
“I want people to understand that when you’re growing your own food, there’s a whole other world out there and if you’re doing the wrong things you can negatively impact whole environment,
not just yourself but the insects, animals and everything."”
Nadia Ruffin, Agricademy
Next week is National Pollinator Week and in advance celebration, I thought we’d open up the love to all of the smallest and perhaps (from our limited human view) unlikely of creatures – from cockroaches, to spiders, to the pollinators we love and champion more regularly.
As a sort of extension to our Habitat Garden Series earlier this spring, we step back a bit and consider how we learn and know the world around us in order to want to create habitat and know where to start. In my mind, this starts with how we as children had this learning and appreciation modeled to us. If we were taught be afraid of spiders and snakes and snails, protecting their valuable positions in our world will not come easily. If however we were taught to see every creature as interesting and valuable in their own right, this will come far more naturally.
Towards this effort, today we’re joined by Nadia Ruffin. In addition to other awards, Nadia was named farmer of the year in 2017 for teaching new advanced technologies in farming by the National Black Farmers Association.
Nadia, like many excellent teachers out there, works at all levels to model to youth (and the rest of us) the wonder of the science of the lives of insects and all that they make possible. She teaches about everything from honeybees to chocolate, cockroaches to earth worms and millipedes, hoping to wake people up to the wonder of such things and their constant presence (and importance) in our everyday lives.
Nadia joined us via SKYPE from her home and garden in Cincinnati.
To expand on this discussion a little more, I wanted to point you all to the most recent issue of FLORA – a publication of the California Native Plant Society. In this issue, Bob Allen (also known as 'BugBob') an adjunct professor of biology, research associate in entomology and horticultural consultant in southern California, reminds us of some important connections between supporting insect life and our gardens.
The first connection Bob emphasizes is the importance of Native plants, which serve as food and shelter for many species of native insects. "Whether in the wild or in the garden, native plants and native insects exhibit a variety of fascinating interactions. Which can be boiled down," he writes, "to one- or two-sided interactions."
"One-sided interactions benefit the individual insects that feed on the plant, such as on sap, leaves, buds, and/or other parts. Since most herbivorous insects are host-specific — they feed only on one or a few related plant species — just having these native plants in the garden promotes survival of their dependent native insects." This is the case with the Monarch butterfly and their host Milkweed plant that we explored more about in our CP conversation with Dr. Anurag Agrawal.
"-sided or mutually beneficial interactions are activities that provide benefit to both insect and plant," and Bob notes that "certainly the most widely discussed two-way interaction is pollination. Adult insects use the pollen and nectar they collect to feed themselves and/or feed their young and in return Insect-pollinated native plants require these insects for their own reproduction."
Bob goes on to outline that we can support these native insects by "using locally native plants, eliminating pesticides, reducing garden disturbance, controlling our use of mulch, and changing human notions about native insects.
A garden full of locally native plants provides food and shelter for native insects.
A hard look at pesticides reveals that nearly all are used against non-native insects that feed on non-native garden plants. A native garden, then, has no need for pesticides. The insects that show up to feed on those native plants belong there.
Soil cover (mulch) is often overused. Sure, it helps keep weeds down, but it also covers the bare soil required for nesting by many species of native bees, egg-laying by grasshoppers, and soil pupation by many species of moths and beetles. Try to keep at least some areas of undisturbed bare soil to allow these insects to survive."
Bob summarizes by saying: "We MUST change the all-too-common human perception that having insects on our plants is a bad thing — it’s not." It's more often than not a sign of health and LIFE. "Enjoy the insects!"
THINKING OUT LOUD this week..
Thinking out loud this week for me is all about fear. We can forget how powerful it is to really be afraid of something, and when we are really afraid of something, we forget how irrationally we can react and respond. Some things deserve our full fear – harmful chemicals in our food and water, the insidiousness of prejudice and fear itself, the loss of biodiversity, gun violence in our schools….but other things – like the lives of spiders and snakes and cockroaches don’t necessarily deserve our fear. We likely don’t want them in our kitchens or bathrooms, but we want them in our world. They deserve our respect and understanding, but not our fear.
It’s easy to love butterflies and hummingbirds – harder to love and care for things we are afraid of. I have to ask myself, what messages do I send to my daughters? What will I pass to them unintentionally in the way of fear? What am I afraid of and in what ways might this fear be holding me back OR harming another?
Nadia Ruffin is a hero of mine. I admire the way she set aside her own introversion for her greater passion for sharing. How her own natural inclination to love the least among us in the form of insects and other somewhat 'other' life forms making our world possible is contagious – to me an online follower and you can see that it’s true for the students in her classes and after-school and summer programs, as well.
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