HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — When most people think of the Pennsylvania Farm Show, they’ll think of animals like cows and horses. But some much smaller creatures are also part of the Farm Show, and they also play an important role in agriculture.
“Butterflies pollinate a lot,” said David Folk, co-owner of Folk’s Butterfly Farm. “Corn is a big one, they love corn. But they’re pretty much opportunistic, they’ll go almost anywhere. They do a lot of flowers. A lot of people don’t think of flowers as a crop, but flowers are a crop when you start getting into horticulture.”
Folk’s Butterfly Farm has been at the Farm Show for 10 years (with one year missed when the event was virtual due to COVID-19). Visitors can track down the light-up butterfly in the Giant Expo Hall to enter an enclosure with dozens of butterflies, which can be enticed with some sweet liquid on a cotton swab and might even land on someone’s shirt or shoe.
Butterflies visit plants for food, pollinating them along the way.
“If you’re doing cut flower floriculture, they’re coming in and they’re pollinating your crop that you’re actually going to cut. In some places, people grow them for the seed. Unless they’re pollinated, you’re not getting a seed,” Folk said.
“Three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on animal pollinators to reproduce,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Some scientists estimate that one out of every three bites of food we eat exists because of animal pollinators like bees, butterflies and moths, birds and bats, and beetles and other insects.”
And speaking of bees, visitors can find those at the PA Farm Show, too.
The Pennsylvania State Beekeepers Association does daily honey extraction demonstrations at the Farm Show, noted eighth-generation beekeeper and 2022 Beekeeper of the Year Gary Carns.
“Without the honeybees, there’s so many crops we would not have. Years ago, when I joined the Farm Bureau, I kind of felt strange joining a farming organization, but it didn’t take long for the orchard people to say, ‘Without you, we’re not in business,'” Carns said.
There may be some friendly competition between the bee people and the butterfly people. Carns noted that, unlike butterflies, honeybees don’t harm the plants they visit.
“When they visit a flower, it’s better off than before they came. That pretty butterfly ate the plant before it became a butterfly,” Carns said.
Honeybees do more for people than just pollinating. The Pennsylvania State Beekeepers Association also has wax and honey products at the Farm Show. Honey can be used for baked goods, Carns said, and it can also be used to help burn victims since bacteria don’t grow in it. And another fun fact: beeswax was basically an early form of chewing gum, Carns said.
Butterflies, on top of pollinating, also play an important role in the food chain. They are low on the food chain, so they help support the animals that eat them, and the animals that eat those animals, and so on, Folk explained.
Pollinators like butterflies and bees face threats today including habitat loss and environmental contaminants, according to the Department of Agriculture.
Folk wants people to know that they should avoid spraying pesticides. And they can help develop habitat for butterflies by planting host plants like milkweed, dill, parsley, and fennel, Folk explained.
As for how to help the bees, Carns says people can start by purchasing local honey. Allowing dandelions and clover to grow can also benefit honeybees, Carns noted.
Folk’s Butterfly Farm and the Pennsylvania State Beekeepers Association can be found at the Farm Show from now until Jan. 14.