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Media moment: The butterfly whisperer

Olivia Nienaber made her home garden a National Wildlife Federation-certified monarch way station. Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

A 4-H’er from Scandia is the youngest of six winners in the Star Tribune’s annual garden contest

Almost anyone could get butterflies in her stomach from having a Star Tribune reporter and photographer tour her property for a story on its Beautiful Gardens contest winners.

But Olivia Nienaber knows where the butterflies belong.

Reporter Rohan Preston writes: “A butterfly whisperer, Nienaber is a home-schooled 18-year-old who turned a 4-H project on the effects of climate change into a calling to help pollinators, the creatures responsible for much of our food and flowers and, thus, life on the planet. Over the past year, she has planted more than 400 flowers, shrubs and trees in 16 gardens on her family’s 10-acre homestead, attracting a riot of birds, bees and butterflies.”

Preston notes that the contest shifted this year toward gardens that contribute to the greater good.

“I love butterflies because of their metamorphosis. They are symbols of change, and change for the better, which is something we need right now,” Nienaber told Preston. “I was trying to find something that was meaningful to me that had to do with climate change and global warming. The question was, how is this thing affecting early migrating birds? Once we got into birds, it started to transfer over into the pollinators.”

Extension’s 4-H Youth Development program, as well as her efforts in planting public gardens in Scandia and Marine-on-St. Croix, have given Nienaber opportunities to speak in public.

She spoke to Scandia’s City Council, for example, advocating for funding of public gardens at the Wayne Erickson Memorial Ballpark and the Scandia-Marine Lion’s Picnic Shelter at Hay Lake. 

Olivia Nienaber talks to reporter Rohan Preston, left, while David Joles photographs her.

Asked what it was like to have the Star Tribune come to her home, Nienaber says, “I was nervous at first, but I just started showing them around and getting to know them. I’ve always been a little shy, but with time, and when you are knowledgeable and passionate about something, you can speak with more confidence.”

The contest winner and her mother who nominated her, Ann Rinkenberger, take the honor very seriously, but not only for their own pride. “People have been emailing the Star Tribune about the story and they have forwarded those emails to me,” says Nienaber. “The real payoff has been that the story inspired other people to plant native plants and encourage pollinators.”

Read “Scandia teen gardener and environmentalist is the butterfly whisperer” from Star Tribune.

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