Rifkin, a resident of Cotuit, as well as a writer, photographer, and restaurant owner, learned about monarch butterflies through a trip to Mexico ten years ago. Seeing the thousands of insects filling the sky was an emotional experience for him, he recalled.
“You cannot see the sky for the butterflies…I’ve been attached to that creature ever since,” he said.
The monarch butterfly makes a Cape Cod stop during its annual migration, which is where Rifkin has long enjoyed seeing them.
A key piece of the monarch’s survival is the milkweed plant. The plants are where female monarchs lay eggs. The milkweed is also monarch caterpillar’s only food source.
The milkweed plant is disappearing, according to Rifkin. The government’s subsidizing corn production has led to plants surrounding corn fields being sprayed with pesticides that kill many plants, including the milkweed.
When Rifkin learned that their habitat was threatened, he talked to his pastor, the Reverend Nell Fields of Waquoit Congregational Church, about distributing milkweed seeds locally through the church. Thus, the Monarch Project of Cape Cod was born.
The project’s purpose is to help the survival of the monarch butterfly through providing individuals and groups with milkweed seeds for free at the church’s Saturday farmer’s market.
Originally supposed to last just for the month of April, the Monarch Project has expanded its run into the summer.
Like Rifkin, Fields also feels a connection to the monarch.
“[The monarch] reminds us how short our lives are, and how fragile our lives are,” said Fields.
The response has been overwhelming, according to Fields and Rifkin. The church phone has been ringing “nonstop,” Fields said. Groups want to get involved,and individuals have asked what they can do to help the cause.
“If you can save one butterfly, you’ve done enough. You’ve done your job,” said Fields.
The seeds are distributed with growing instructions. According to Rifkin, seeds should be buried shallowly, with about an eighth of an inch of soil on them. They should be placed near a forest area, in direct sunlight. Garden placement is not advisable, as the milkweed’s roots grow horizontally.
Birds also like the caterpillars, so placement near a bird feeder is not advised.
The project welcomes donations. Rifkin advised all those who want milkweed seed to contact the church.