Kansas City tries to prevent tragic disappearance of monarch butterflies by planting weeds

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- They once flew in such great numbers that they darkened the sky. Now the metro area is at the heart of an effort to save monarch butterflies from extinction.

"If we let anything go extinct we are kind of hurting ourselves for the future," said Mark Samborski, owner of Antioch Growers, an urban farm known for raising local herbs and vegetables. "We know certain characteristics that they maintain and pollinate, and take care of. But we don’t know all that they have done or can do. For anything we let go extinct it makes our life less valuable. Because they were placed here for a purpose."

Locally grown produce is healthier for people to eat, and Antioch Growers shows others how to harvest their own food in small spaces.On a 10 acre urban plot, where space is at a premium, the farm now reserves places to plant milkweed alongside tomatoes and sweet potatoes.

Humans don't eat milkweed, but monarch butterflies do. It's where they lay their eggs, and it provides the only food source for caterpillars that eventually turn into the orange and black beauties. Thanks to development and widespread use of weed killers, milkweed is no longer plentiful and monarchs have been disappearing at an alarming rate.

"There’s a lot of milkweed planted on the property," Samborski said. "It grows well in this climate. It’s a native plant in most cases. It does well, it just has to be protected long enough to where it produces the bloom so people can see there is a beautiful side of it. And see the caterpillars on it and understand what part they play."

The I-35 corridor marks a main migratory path for the butterfly from Mexico to Minnesota. Samborski has applied for permits from the Missouri Department of Transportation to plant milkweed along the interstate next to his farm. He also has six honeybee hives to help pollinators thrive.

Some fear if monarchs disappear, other important pollinators could face a similar fate. And humans simply could not provide enough food to live without them.