FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Why hasn't milkweed been commercialized before?
Milkweed is a stubborn plant. In World War II, milkweed was an up and coming "crop". As a renewable, natural resource, milkweed was wild harvested and the light tufts of fluff filled life jackets and flight jackets to keep serviceman afloat and warm. Twelve MILLION pounds of milkweed pods were collected and served our military forces in this capacity. As they looked to transition the effort from wild harvest to commercial agriculture its future was bleak.
Milkweed is a slow growing perennial and does not behave like a row crop. Throughout history, people have tried to tame milkweed's wild side so they could farm it in a monoculture. Each time, milkweed has refused. When we first started our business in 1987, we too worked to domesticate milkweed to no avail. We learned that if we wanted a milkweed business, we had to work with Nature and allow it to teach us. Growing milkweed is normally the culprit of failed milkweed businesses.
What is market based conservation?
When we use natural resources in a regenerative way, they flourish. When natural resources like milkweed are valued or monetized, people care for it and nurture it. The cycle reinforces itself. People get paid for milkweed pods. In return, communities protect monarch butterfly habitat, so, there is more monarch habitat. There is more milkweed, people earn more money, more habitat is protected.
The goal is to create so many uses for milkweed materials that the full monarch migratory route has healthy habitat supporting the communities that support them.
How do you collect milkweed?
Milkweed is hand harvested in the same way it was done in World War II. People, armed with mesh bags fill them with milkweed pods. The pods air dry and separated into floss, seed, and biomass.
Do wild collections harm the monarch butterfly habitat?
The greatest risk to monarch butterfly habitat is the re-purposing of the land in which it resides. Milkweed is a slow growing perennial that spreads through seeds and rhizomes, shallow roots that grow horizontally and create clone stems. When you see a large patch of milkweed, it could be just one or two plants occupying an area. Picking milkweed pods by hand, it is impossible to pick them all. In addition, some pods open before harvest even begins. As a non-determinate plant, milkweed blooms, set pods and ripens all at different times. There may be pods and blooms on the same milkweed stem. Creating value for communities through habitat helps protect monarch habitat from being repurposed.
What can I do to help preserve milkweed?
Create awareness! With the lack of interaction with Nature in recent years, many people do not know what milkweed looks like or the important role it plays as the monarch caterpillars only food source. Educating your community, from the roadside managers to parks and neighbors, every milkweed plant makes a difference. In addition to supporting monarchs, milkweed provides nectar and has a host of other "milkweed loving" insects. Insects are the bottom of the food chain, so protecting monarch habitat helps all wildlife thrive which is why monarchs are considered an "Umbrella species".