Saturday, May 08, 2021

Person of the Week

A Growing Effort to Support Pollinator Pathways

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Guilford resident Alexandra Demitrack is shown here at a prolific vegetable garden, which she also helps to maintain, at her place of employment, Branford Fire Department (BFD). The Branford firefighter/paramedic is putting her organic gardening experience to work to help BFD establish organic pollinator pathway gardens on the grounds of the firehouse. Photo courtesy of Alexandra Demitrack

Guilford resident Alexandra Demitrack is shown here at a prolific vegetable garden, which she also helps to maintain, at her place of employment, Branford Fire Department (BFD). The Branford firefighter/paramedic is putting her organic gardening experience to work to help BFD establish organic pollinator pathway gardens on the grounds of the firehouse. (Photo courtesy of Alexandra Demitrack )

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This Guilford resident spent part of the summer nurturing and growing a native, sustainable, and all-organic pollinator pathway garden on the grounds where she works.

Firefighter/Paramedic Alexandra Demitrack joined Branford Fire Department (BFD) last February and is currently one of its three full-time female firefighter/paramedics. Earlier this summer, she was tapped by Branford Fire Chief Thomas Mahoney to lead the installation of a native, sustainable, and all-organic pollinator pathway garden adjacent to the town’s firehouse.

When it comes to installing a pollinator pathway, “the chief had the idea and he just came to me and asked me to put a committee together, because prior to working as a firefighter, I worked on an organic farm, so I had some experience,” says Alexandra.

In addition to working at a friend’s organic farm in Wisconsin for two years, she’d previously worked and volunteered on other organic farms while attending college in that state.

Alexandra grew up in Guilford into her middle school years, when her dad’s job as a chemical engineer moved the family to Singapore for a period of time. The family came back to Guilford in time for Alexandra to complete the rest of her junior and senior years of high school before she headed off to school in Wisconsin.

Four years ago, Alexandra returned to Connecticut from the Midwest and moved back to Guilford. She became assistant manager of non-profit New Haven Farms (now Gather New Haven) while also working part-time with Bridgeport ambulance service and attending paramedic school.

“I worked as the assistant manager of New Haven Farms two years ago, and now I just volunteer there,” says Alexandra. “Their main focus is a diabetes and obesity prevention program, and then they have gardens throughout the city to grow food for the program and a Saturday farmers’ market that’s just awesome.”

She also extended her farm knowledge by helping out at Olympia Farm in Guilford.

“I would go to Olympia Farm one morning a week, and I learned how to milk goats and make cheese,” she says.

Given that she’s now heading up a very cool volunteer project that will help pollinators ranging from bees to butterflies, birds to bats and more, it’s also worth mentioning that Alexandra once took up beekeeping—which is how she found out she shouldn’t.

“I was trying to become a beekeeper, so I had a hive and then I found out I was allergic” to bees, she says, laughing.

Obviously, she’s not holding that against the bees, one of the most critical insects supported by pollinator gardens, together with so many other fauna.

“These gardens support the entire life cycle of these animals,” says Alexandra.

She’s also looking forward to transforming a landscape of closely cropped lawn and parking lot into an oasis for them. Right now, the space designated for the project is “kind of like a desert for wildlife,” says Alexandra.

Building a Pollinator Pathway

“I wanted to keep it manageable so we could progress slowly and work out the kinks,” says Alexandra of the multi-phase process she’s mapped out for the pathway.

The first garden will be constructed using 2,700 square feet of open space at the eastern entrance of a public parking lot, to include a path winding through the garden.

“The first step is converting the lawn to workable soil,” she explains.

The organic garden’s soil amendment process will require at least 100 pounds of kelp, 12 yards of compost, 18 bales of straw, and 12 yards of mulch, as well as plenty of people power.

“We have people at the fire house helping in different aspects,” says Alexandra. “Some are helping out with irrigation and because we’ve had a lot of people offer donated plants, we have people using their vehicles to go around and pick that stuff up.” They also had people helping with the soil work and planting.”

Once the soil is ready, the plan is to install native New England perennials that support pollinators. The garden will include wildflowers grown from seed and native shrubs.

“We’ll be planting native plants along that area and kind of see where it goes,” she says. “I have permission to basically put in as many plants in as we can, so this will be the first phase of it.”

In July, Alexandra help set up a crowdfunding effort which surpassed the initial goal of $1,250; raising at total of $1,425 when the fundraiser ended on Aug. 31. By reaching the $1,250 goal the project became eligible to receive a community match fund grant through SustainableCT for a total of $2,500. The project was eligible for the grant because the Town of Branford is a participating community of SustainableCT.

Alexandra encourages everyone on the shoreline to consider creating pollinator pathways wherever possible.

“We need everybody to do this at their houses, too, so we have a network of gardens. Having a patchwork of these gardens is just as important as having one,” Alexandrea says.

Follow the progress of the BFD Pollinator Pathway on Instagram @morebees_please. Contact Alexandra by email at ademitrack@branfordfire.com to volunteer or otherwise contribute support to the project.


Pam Johnson covers news for Branford and North Branford for Zip06. Email Pam at p.johnson@shorepublishing.com.

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