Pictured: Native to California, milkweed is part of the habitat for several pollinators.
by David Goldstein
In a recent article, I listed five ways gardening can benefit the environment, including tips on plant selection and planting methods to help bees thrive. Bee pollination, as one study I cited points out, contributes over $180 million annually to the economy in Ventura County.
Critics followed up with me noting an oversight in this outlook. The list of benefits focused on value to people. Bees were valued for their economic contribution. Even the benefit of waste reduction, cutting transport packaging out of the food supply network and reducing food waste, primarily addresses problems experienced by humans.
In contrast, Bonnie Clarfield-Bylin, a Conejo Valley Audubon board member who viewed the article after the California Native Plant Society posted it on their Facebook group site for review and comment, contacted me to point out the inherent value of native plants for the benefit of native species. “As you must know,” she emailed me, “planting California native plants… provide(s) food and shelter for birds” as well as being “important for our native pollinators…”
Clarfield-Bylin noted Audubon’s “Lawns to Habitat” program, California Native Plant Garden Tour (virtual last year), and grants. The organization also offers free gardening advice.
Gardeners planting native species may not maximize food yield from their gardens, but the benefit of helping native animal species by planting native plant species has a different value. John Vucetich, an associate professor at Michigan Technological University’s School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, in a 2015 paper in <em>Conservation Biology,</em> wrote, “If you think that nature also matters for its own sake, then you’ll approach… decisions very differently.” Rather than looking at a species and asking, “What good are you?,” Vucetich argues for “intrinsic versus instrumental value,” focusing on traits and circumstances giving humans intrinsic value and likening those to aspects of nature.
Even those whose environmentalism, unlike Vucetich’s, is rooted in the environment’s benefit to humanity, acknowledge benefits outside the economic realm. As said by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental lawyer and son of the famous statesman, “We protect nature not for nature’s sake but for our own sake because it’s the infrastructure of our communities… We’re protecting it because it enriches us, yes, it enriches our economy and we ignore that at our peril. But it is also enriching us aesthetically, recreationally, culturally, historically and spiritually.”
These benefits to human civilization, as well as service to nature derived from planting native species, are both derived from a program on nine acres of Ventura County-owned land just outside Camarillo. Growing Works is not just a wholesale nursery for California native and drought tolerant plants, it also provides job training and employment.
Started three years ago, after Supervisor Linda Parks saw a similar program in San Luis Obispo County and worked to bring it to Ventura County, Growing Works is a program of the Turning Point Foundation, a nonprofit running programs and offering supportive housing for people with mental illnesses.
Growing Works “members,” who are receiving services through Ventura County Behavioral Health generally for severe and persistent mental illness, cultivate plants for sale to botanic gardens, public agencies and other customers. Through this “horticultural therapy,” along with other services, they learn job skills and work toward recovery, according to Jenn Rodriguez, Growing Works’ nursery manager.
Although the program generally does not sell to the public, a retail partner, Tiny Plants, is helping the Turning Point Foundation host two retail sale days. The first will be on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 18, and the second will be on Presidents’ Day, Feb. 15. Although Growing Works members will not be present, staff, including Rodriguez, will be on hand to offer expert advice. She is eager to help people learn to plant and care for native plants, succulents, and herbs, so more local gardens will benefit both nature and people, including those who do the planting and those who initially propagated the seeds.
ON THE NET
David Goldstein is an environmental analyst with Ventura County Public Works and can be reached at 805-658-4312 or email@example.com.