An Interview With Melody Daugherty
In mid-November, I met Melody Daugherty at a local gathering spot in Manitou Springs for a hot beverage. Dressed similarly to our regulars who have landscaped or gardened in the region for several decades, you can tell she is a woman who is connected to the earth. Melody wears little jewelry or makeup, but rather has a sunkissed glow. Her bright blue eyes light up as she recounts her story of becoming passionate about preserving pollinators and their habitats. Melody Daugherty grew up in rural Wisconsin where she had a strong tie to the outdoors and the living beings around her. “I used to sit in a field where I grew up, and there were so many invertebrates around. It was loud, like a drumbeat,” she recalls. “The world is very different from when I grew up. The community really showed up for each other and I was surrounded by people that just loved the earth. Capitalism was not the orientation. This care for others was a heart issue and there was inherent value for every living thing that was not turned into maltreatment of animals or plants.” This drumbeat that she experienced as a young girl has become a calling for her now.
Melody has had her own landscaping business for over a dozen years. She credits the native seeds and plants surge to her awareness surrounding the plight of the pollinators. Another pivotal circumstance that jump-started her innate desire to become an advocate for the pollinators is the massive invertebrate pollinator die off in 2018-2019. Approximately 75%-95% (depending on sources) of pollinators in the region died. This was shocking to Melody but also to many of the beekeepers in the Manitou Springs area. Beekeeping has been a tradition for many families in the region for generations. When this die-off occurred, a group of concerned beekeepers gathered in Manitou. Melody and other members of the Manitou Springs Pollinator Project attended their meeting. The Manitou Springs Pollinator Project was created by Beth Chorpenning. It was a club of local residents committed to grass roots activism to do something on behalf of pollinators before it became the Manitou Pollinators, a 501c3 non-profit. The grief experienced in the beekeeping meeting sparked her further commitment to the cause of Manitou Pollinators. She knew that she had to do more.
Shortly after the meeting of the beekeepers, Daugherty read a news article about the Butterfly Pavilion, and how they were looking for municipalities that were interested in becoming Pollinator Districts. Without even calling or emailing to make an appointment, she hopped in her car and drove there. After arriving at the Pavilion in Westminster, CO, she asked to talk to the director and “bing, bang, boom, we were brought into the certification process!” This certification process is tailor-made to fit any community that applies, no matter the size. After speaking to the Butterfly Pavilion and seeing the rigorous universal metrics used to assess a community throughout the certification journey, she knew she could trust their process. After this, the real work began. Melody met with innumerable business owners, residents, non-profits, the City of Manitou Springs, faith communities and more. Buy-in from all of these various parties took five years, but in 2023, Manitou gained the distinction and honor of becoming the world’s first recognized Pollinator District! She continues to meet with new stakeholders since she realizes it takes communities absolutely committed to pollinators and their habitat to make a difference.
When chatting with Melody, I notice she uses the language of accountability, justice, duties and responsibility often. I asked her if this is an intentional use. “Oh absolutely! I view my work with the Manitou Pollinators as part of two of my obligations. One is to my Indigenous Elders, and the other is to the pollinators themselves.” Melody is a Traditional Indigenous Elder with duties and responsibilities to the Cherokee and Anishinaabe of Canada. Her Elders guide, instruct and offer the wisdom to support her environmental and conservation work with the land, the Manitou Pollinators and Manitou Springs Municipal Certified Pollinator District. Several of the things that she continually works on include, the ethics of how the organization operates, the breadth of community involvement, future generations as a forefront, and how their efforts impact other species. This work is very spiritual—a ministry for her. Many non-Indigenous people may not grasp this level of meaning in her work, and this is one of the gaps she must broach in her conversations with others. As she transitions to talk about her second obligation to the pollinators, she lights up referring to them as her sisters and brothers or her relatives. “They are the reason I do this work. The land and our relatives take care of us, without asking for a dime. One out of three bites of food is a result of pollination!”
Daugherty has learned a lot through her efforts in Manitou’s certification as a Pollinator District. “I have learned to take risks when feeling inadequate or scared. ‘Be scared and do it anyway’ mentality. I need time to step away from situations and chill out. This time allows me to figure out a way to do it anyway.” Throughout this journey, she recognized that it required a “different wisdom,” one that requires “being in a relationship” with her community, the pollinators, and the land. As mentioned previously, this project took immense collaboration and conversation with innumerable stakeholders throughout the Manitou Springs community. “Another lesson that I learned was how to figure out where to meet people where they are at. Not everyone comes to the table with a passion for pollinators.” Daugherty concedes, “Pollinators are political.” As an introvert, she has had to learn creative ways to connect with people and adjust through conflicts. Many of her strategies involved asking about others’ bonds with nature. “Some of people’s connections were that they gardened, others had children who loved the outdoors, hiking, camping. Even golfers have a connection with nature that I can tap into. It is always about the common ground before bringing them to how to protect the pollinators.”
When asked if she has any wisdom for budding activists, Melody laughed, “Get lots of sleep! There are going to be times when you feel like you are at a breaking point. Honor that feeling, lay down your work, and sleep. Then this is when you make a choice of how you show up next.” She also advocates that it is “especially important for women activists to have mentors.” Her mentors include her Indigenous Elders, and she finds great comfort and spiritual mentorship in Desmond Tutu. His living example of not stopping in the face of Apartheid was his greatest teaching to her. After talking to Melody, one gets the sense that she is never alone or lonely—standing on the shoulders of so many others who have come before her. Her mother’s legacy especially, continues to be a significant influence. She vividly remembers an incident where her mother introduced environmental justice to her at a young age. “We were all in a car driving behind this guy in a truck. The man hit a dog with his truck. My mom followed and chased this man until he pulled over. She got out of the car and gave this man an earful. My mom was the first person to teach me to care about all the living beings and to hold the cruel accountable.” Daugherty also shared that her mom started the first in-home care program for elders in their rural community. ” I was taught early on that this check-in on our elders was out of love.”
After first recommending that readers check out the Manitou Pollinators webpage, as well as the Butterfly Pavilion resources, she asserts that every person has the capability of helping the pollinators. “My advice is to grow plants. Grow them in containers outside if you have an apartment, a condo, or just a small growing space. There are so many options! Grow food plants—the plants the pollinators gain nutrition from. Also, protect larger pollinator habitats. This includes trees where they mate, lay eggs, nest, and have shelter from weather, including hail (referring to birds). There are 964 different types of native bees. Pollinators also include moths, beetles, and flies. They need our help—planting plants is the best way. They need an oasis that they can hop, fly, or travel to. If your neighbor has a garden, that is not enough. They need corridors so they can travel from one safe habitat to another. Everyone is part of this solution!” Melody has a whimsical side as well. She played along when asked what type of pollinator she would be. Without hesitation, she replied, “For this season only—I would be a hummingbird. I like to travel long distances, especially to warm climates. They are beautiful, athletic, and almost gymnastic-like. They also sound so cool.”
While many people felt doom after the incredible die-off of pollinators in 2018- 2019, Melody used her emotions to fuel a more beautiful reality. Daugherty believes that there is power in our smaller actions. “Change is possible. We do this every day! Micro decisions that impact the big picture; it is not just how we vote in elections. Of course, our daily decisions are not a replacement for voting.” When asked if she thought there was hope for our future, she replied, “Mother Nature never lies. Colonialism brought us to this current level of denial and lying about the current situation. Climate change is a breakdown of relationships. When like-minded people who care get together and do something about it, change is created. Sometimes things feel overwhelming. The problems of our world are so big, bigger sometimes than we thought. It can be scary to look at the bigger picture, but when we reach out to each other for help and create community, create relationships, more often than not, the community understands. They get behind us in our change-making. There is hope for us- yes. We all love.”
While talking to Melody Daugherty, her calm resolve to impact her community shines through. Her unwavering commitment to the success of the Manitou Springs Municipal Certified Pollinator District inspires a shift in mindset for us all. What small things can we change for the better? Daugherty’s activism proves that love can change the world, even if only one Pollinator District at a time.
Manitou Pollinators webpage: https://manitoupollinators.org/
Butterfly Pavilion webpage: https://butterflies.org/
Pollinator District information: https://butterflies.org/pollinatordistricts/