EAST CHICAGO | A small garden is taking root around the corner from an East Chicago ArcelorMittal plant.
Its presence on the 3000 block of Michigan Avenue is to draw another type of visitor to the industrial grounds – monarch butterflies.
JobLink, which has provided classes and training to mill workers since 1980, is providing a class for ArcelorMittal employees to come in their off-time in a lot next to its office and put in some elbow grease for the garden to bloom.
The half-circle spot with an estimated 50-foot diameter features mostly native plants by design – and includes multiple types of milkweed, the butterfly’s main food source.
JobLink Coordinator Marcia Taylor said she wanted to have some plants that would largely fend for themselves, so the decision to integrate the garden idea as a “monarch waystation” – or haven for the delicate insects – was more of an unintentional outcome.
A project like this gives those in the class an opportunity to learn about planting and landscape design, she said. That includes putting down close to $1,000 in native plants including the milkweed, prairie grass and Asters.
An earlier article in the New York Times piqued her interest in joining the grassroots effort across the country to provide a small habitable place for the butterflies.
According to Monarch Watch, an organization that provides expertise for amateur gardeners via the University of Kansas, hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies need a diet of milkweed plants and nectar to feed on as specific generations migrate in the fall on a long trek to Mexico and California.
That food supply is being threatened by human development and pesticides. To counteract this, it is encouraging gardeners and others to plant its host milkweed plants to attract the butterflies before they head south.
“That’s the first hope — that (they) will stop here,” said gardener Lee Ann Boltema. “And flowers just make everyone happy.”
The job is a return to roots for Melton Robinson, 56, who once took up horticulture landscaping in the late 1980s.
“We go through enough stress all day, so we need something to change the mood,” he said. Even a small beautification project like this can have the potential to bloom into something bigger, Robinson said.
“Gotta start somewhere,” he said.