Rescue MI Nature Now

Food, spices, oils, and fibers – pollinators excel at making these items possible. The complexity of the pollinator world is astounding because of the roles they play and their vitality to healthy ecosystems. We celebrate these achievements through the incredible people and projects that are working to conserve pollinators. We hope these stories encourage and empower you to better understand who our pollinators are and what actions you can take to help them.

This month we interviewed Zenaida Flores and Tharmond Ligon Jr. of Rescue MI Nature Now Inc. about their organization and their pollinator habitat work. Rescue MI Nature Now (RMNN) is a Michigan Nonprofit working to improve the environment and strengthen communities. The organization aims to transform unused land and turn it into green spaces with trees, flowers, and native plants. Greenspace designs have included areas for small bee colonies, community gardens, gathering spaces, and more. RMNN offers nature based educational programs and job skills, connecting the people with nature, and restoring faith in the community.

Q: How would you describe this effort?

A: Rescue MI Nature Now starts with education and getting kids involved where they live, work, and play. We are turning blight into beauty. With our efforts we always aim to see what is already around us and be aware of it. For example, we noticed while cleaning up debris in our neighborhood there was a lot of goldenrod growing naturally. How could we use this to benefit our community? It is important to be aware of invasive species that are growing but also to see the future potential in an area, to see how we could transform the space for the community’s benefit. Not only to make the space aesthetically pleasing but benefitting people and the wildlife, including pollinators in the area. It’s also important to teach kids and others how to manage invasive plant species, like Canada thistle. We manage and make tea from the thistle flower heads, which also prevents it from releasing more seeds that will spread it. We feed the thistle tea to our honey bees and they love it. We found a use for it instead of just ripping it out and throwing it away. We are partnering with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and others to restore what were once vacant lots to native pollinator habitat that will be open and available for the community to use, learn from, and enjoy.

Q: How did your organization start?

A: We saw the youth around here running back and forth to the gas station as a convenient way to get snacks, so we introduced them to the idea of cooking collards. Then once they were interested in the taste of collards, we taught them how to grow them. It grew from there. We thought about growing food here and saw the goldenrod growing and thought it made sense to grow food in a place pollinators already call home. There were a lot of empty and blighted houses at the time and we thought ‘if we could only get rid of those houses then we could transform the space into pollinator habitat and make it an educational and useful resource for the community’. We could grow food and teach the kids how to take it to market and teach them the economic aspect of growing and selling food. The habitat was already here, it only made sense to rescue it. You rescue the land, you rescue the people. It just made sense to us. First, we had to get the illegal dumping off the land and test the soil to see where it was best to grow food crops. It was a process.

Q: What got you interested in or inspires you about pollinators?

A: Zenaida: Being part of the Garden Rescue Program with Keep Growing Detroit. That definitely helped because they have a program called Sweet on Detroit where you are introduced to beekeeping. Tharmond and I both attended. It was free and we both really enjoyed it. After that was completed we enrolled in a longer, 6-week program. We learned so much about bees and how many different species there are, there are hundreds of them! It really gave us a better understanding of them. I never thought I’d be a beekeeper. I was never around bees growing up. If I saw one, I would just stay away from it. My perception has changed after being educated on bees and their importance to humans. Learning that, I was like, what can I do differently to contribute in a good way? So, education on bees really opened up a whole new world about pollinators in which I learned how butterflies, beetles, birds and bats are also pollinators. It was awesome learning that and then seeing all these different flowers that you could start growing that would bring the pollinators in. I love birds. That's the other thing too. I'm a bird fanatic. So, knowing that certain plants you grow can attract different species (of pollinators and birds). That, for me, was it. I was like, OK, this is all I gotta do? You know, why not.

Tharmond: The attraction for me has always been there with wildlife and nature. I’m a fish guy. I like fish and I’ve always been very comfortable around nature. So, for me learning the equivalence of a 1 acre wildflower field to 2 mature trees as far as pollination resources go was fascinating. That you could have a whole acre and it would be equivalent to two mature trees but the trees would win the game of resources in the long run was fascinating. But, it takes a long time to grow mature trees. Why not build habitat where you can right now with other types of plants? In a few short years you could have habitat and not wait a few decades for a tree. In the early years as far as habitat goes the pollinator patch will win the resources game. But they need each other to be sustainable. It’s really a delicate balance and we need to tend to both habitat types.

Q: Which pollinators does your organization seek to help and what makes your efforts unique?

A: Our project does not single out any particular pollinator, but as we are both beekeepers, we definitely consider honey bees. Different types of bees are important. We partnered with Bowling Green State University to see how many different types of pollinators there are and what the diversity of habitat is on our farm. We are really focused on enhancing the biodiversity and supporting butterflies, bees, and birds. The reactions we get when visitors see all the butterflies in our habitat or in the garden is “How do you guys have so many butterflies here?” It opens opportunities for education. We can introduce people to what pollinators really are, how they can affect us in a positive way and what one can do at home to invite pollinators into their space.

Our space is unique because it is situated between residential homes and industrial sites. It is unique in that it has and is being transformed from blight to beauty as our Mayor would say. People live, work, and play right here and they don’t have to leave. You can see kids running down the block, running through the gardens, playing with the butterflies, picking and eating tomatoes and having the time of their life. This is what playgrounds should be like. A natural playground, not swing sets. We just need some beauty, some food and some butterflies, bees, and birds and the opportunity to really engage with nature and learning. We would love to serve as a model for other neighborhoods in residential/industrial areas.

Q: Where is the majority of your work taking place?

A: On property we own, in our neighborhood in Highland Park and Detroit, MI.

Q: What is the target audience for this work?

A: The community. It began with youth, but recently we’ve started to think about senior citizens in the community more. How do we get them outside into these natural spaces to introduce them to these spaces? How do we engage them and get them outside? Or share with them how they can grow native plants and plants that provide beauty and resources that are low maintenance. Also, when the youth take produce from our community garden to the market, they are engaging with seniors, so there is a connection there. Then, they are drawing the seniors back to our gardens and native pollinator habitats to see where the food was grown. The youth deserve the credit. They’ve done the work, they’re selling the produce, harvesting and planting trees. We are just like sideline coaches. We are not even in the game. We are just coaching them. They know what to do.

Q: What are the primary goals of your organization?

A: Improving the quality of life for the people around us and around the projects. Having the opportunity to educate and reverse some of the environmental concerns like the urban heat island effect and creating low or no-mow habitats. Working with Partners like the USFWS, Partners Program to restore pollinator habitat restores faith in the community by cleaning up these sites and removing hazards and dangers from the sites. We want areas that the community will want to walk through, green spaces for them to enjoy with their families but to also replicate in their home spaces. We let folks take seeds home and teach them how to spread the seeds by hand broadcast. Doing this larger habitat project with the Partners Program will allow us to gather more native seed once the habitat is established and have the space to forage the seeds. We have also created another business, the Detroit Pollinator Company. It will be a nonprofit and will employ people here in the areas they live, work, play and it will help preserve and grow what we’ve started here.

Q: What successes have you achieved?

A: One success is that we got our alleys cleaned up. Five years ago they were a total nightmare and there has been a total transformation. They are now walkable and accessible; they have beautiful murals. That was a project in partnership with our local block club, Keep it Clean Block Club and the city of Detroit General Services Department and their alley clean up team, They did an awesome job initially and it allowed us to maintain them over the years.

In November, we were acknowledged and received a neighborhood beautification grant in the amount of $15,000 but, what I am more proud of is that we were able to acquire land-banked, owned parcels that had mature growth trees. We were able to save those trees from being demolished, cut, or damaged and preserved nature on those lots. Another success is our battle with invasive Ailanthus (tree of heaven). We have won every single battle so far! [Zenaida and Tharmond are both sustainability ambassadors for the city of Detroit and were recognized by the Detroit City Council.]

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: Trash, debris, and illegal dumping. Paper is the biggest challenge. We need a campaign that teaches people to keep their trash inside their car, for everyone’s sake and the sake of pollinators. There is nothing worse than looking at a prepared plot of plants and you got a McDonalds straw or wrapper in there!

Q: We’re always looking to improve our network of partners and promote good informational materials and projects that others can learn from. What are some of your favorite go-to resources for pollinator or habitat related questions?

A: The biologists from the USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program have been awesome. Xerces society, Michigan DNR, MISIN (Michigan Invasive Species Information Network), the city of Detroit and MSU extension have also been great resources and or partners for us. Other folks in the area doing great work are Arboretum Detroit, Bees in the D. (partnering with Detroit Distillery to make mead with honey), and Detroit Hives.

Q: How do you engage with your community in regard to this work?

A: Our space is open to everyone. We do that intentionally so people can immerse themselves in theses spaces. They can come up to us and ask us questions. It’s really about letting people be in these spaces first hand and experience them for themselves. When we talk with visitors, we will ask them questions about their wants, needs, and tie those in to nature and pollinators. You know, like, do you desire a clean and beautiful neighborhood? And then if I get the response, yeah. Well, how do you define that? You really just find out more about the neighbor or individual that's visiting. You just find out, what's their favorite color? What's their favorite plant? What's their favorite vegetable or fruit to eat? It is all about the engagement process, about having a conversation. It could be in a few little tips or icebreakers, conversation starters where you are engaging a person’s mind and connecting people’s everyday lives to pollinators and native habitat/ nature.

A story can be intriguing and engaging for people-like the fact that goldenrod was used to make tires. Back in the 1900’s Thomas Edison had a set of tires made of goldenrod rubber put on his Model T by Henry Ford. Goldenrod has many good properties; compounds in the plant may be helpful in treating inflammation in the body and research has found that it contains molecules that can inhibit the COVID virus. Native plants have many, many uses.

Q: What is something about pollinator conservation or your organization you wish more people knew?

A: That they don't have to cut the dandelions as soon as they pop up in the springtime and that they don't have to spray so many chemicals on all these plants because pollinators are relying on them as a food source. We see them as a weed, and we tend to get rid of them. If we were more aware of why these plants are growing in the 1st place, you know, then that could change people’s perspectives. If people understood the purpose of plants, and how to correctly identify plants, they may not be as eager to destroy things that they know about that have benefits. The moment we eliminate one or two plants from a garden bed, we are destroying biodiversity that could exist. And in most cases, seeds especially know where to start to grow, where they are best suited and will be safe. If people understood this, even began to, I think our behavior would be different. There is a lack of understanding and exposure.

Q: Where can readers find more information about your organization?

A: Our website, ( We also have an Instagram (@rescuenaturenow) and Facebook (Rescue MI Nature Now) page.

Q: What is the best way to get involved in your conservation work?

A: Come on over and join us! Sign up to volunteer on our website, send us a DM or email. We’d love to hear from you!

Alone no individual or entity can address all pollinator conservation needs, but through collaborative conservation we can and will make a difference for pollinators and the ecosystems they help support. Keep following our Pollinator Conservation Spotlight series to hear more inspiring pollinator conservation stories. Do you know a great project or organization that is addressing critical pollinator conservation topics and deserve their moment under the spotlight? Let us know!

Article contributed by Meredith Holm and Kiara Kamara, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the NAPPC Pollinator Communications Taskforce.