Even pollinators like to dine at the Kansas State Fair

Just like brightly colored food stands attract fairgoers to high calorie delights, the brightly colored gardens around the Kansas State Fairgrounds, in Hutchinson, were planted to attract native pollinators this year.

Both people and pollinators, it seems, can’t pass up a tasty fair treat.

This year, the Kansas State Fair chose to highlight the story of native pollinators to fairgoers through their educational outreach. Jacki Eckert, education manager at the Kansas State Fair, explained that pollinators are a valuable partner in Kansas agricultural production and the fair is an excellent opportunity to share this story with youth and their parents.

“We think that’s one of the things that can bridge agriculture with urban areas, is the story of pollinators,” said Fair Manager Robin Jennison. “They look great.”

The newly renamed “Education Building” (formerly the Do-Art Building) was transformed into a pollinator education space, with hands-on activities for children and a large map provided by Monarch Watch of Lawrence, Kansas, to show the migratory path of the Monarch butterfly.

Eckert and her staff planted four pollinator gardens around the fairgrounds to showcase native Kansas plant species, as well as share how vital pollinators are to the state’s agriculture.

A pollinator can be a bee, a wasp, a fly, moths, butterflies, hummingbirds, bats, and other insects and animals that go from plant to plant gathering pollen and distributing it, she explained. So, when establishing the pollinator gardens, the staff considered the needs of many different species. For example, they built an insect hotel outside of the Education Building, filled with pine cones, leaves, sticks and other nesting materials that would allow pollinators of many kinds to lay their larva.

“Other nesting sites are native grasses, butterfly houses, and even rotting logs,” she said. And it was important to the team to plant flowers with lots of color, and to consider the three seasons of blooms—spring, summer and fall—to attract as many different kinds of pollinators as possible. Some of the popular plants that home gardeners can find for their own gardens would be the purple coneflower, the blackeyed susan, and wild lavender.

This year’s abundance of rain almost drowned the gardens, but when it finally dried up a little that moisture profile helped the pollinator gardens get established, Eckert said. There was a milkweed garden by Gate 5 for Monarch butterflies; a tiered garden area by Lake Talbot that highlighted the natural plants of the Flint Hills; one in front of the Education Building that showed off native Kansas plants; and then the showstopper sunflower garden in front of the Pride of Kansas building that offered several different sunflower varieties. Additionally, the Butterfly Experience, a tent near Lake Talbot that allowed fairgoers an up-close butterfly encounter, returned for another year.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or [email protected].