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Shown here at Branford Fire Department’s (BFD) prolific vegetable garden, which she also helps to maintain, Branford Firefighter/ Paramedic Alexandra Demitrack is putting her organic gardening experience to work to help BFD establish organic pollinator pathway gardens on the grounds of the firehouse on North Main Street. (Photo courtesy of Alexandra Demitrack )
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Branford Fire Chief Thomas Mahoney’s idea and effort to install a native, sustainable, and all-organic pollinator pathway garden on the grounds of the firehouse is rapidly growing into reality with the help of project leader and Branford Firefighter/Paramedic Alexandra Demitrack.
Alexandra joined Branford Fire Department (BFD) last February is currently one of three full-time female firefighter/paramedics for the Town of Branford.
“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. After the Guilford native returned to Connecticut and her hometown four years ago, 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.”
Given that’s she’s now heading up a very cool BFD 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.
She’s also looking forward to transforming BFD’s landscape of closely cropped lawn and parking lot into an oasis for them.
Right now “it’s kind of like a desert for wildlife,” says Alexandra.
Alexandra notes that installing a pollinator pathway outside the very “green” fire headquarters building at 45 North Main Street is a great fit for BFD and the town. Designed as a green building and opened in 2012, the $12.5 million BFD facility officially earned its prestigious Silver certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) from the U.S. Green Building Council in 2015. The designation makes BFD not only the first municipal building in Branford to earn LEED Silver certification, but the first fire station in Connecticut to be designated LEED Silver.
Alexandra is currently using the crowdfunding platform Patronicity to raise at least $1,250, which will be matched by a community match fund grant through SustainableCT for a total of $2,500. The project is eligible for the grant as the Town of Branford is a participating community of SustainableCT.
Fundraising is underway at www.patronicity.com (search “Branford”).
People can also follow progress of the BFD Pollinator Pathway on Instagram @morebees_please and are welcome to contact Alexandra by email at firstname.lastname@example.org to volunteer or otherwise contribute their support to the project.
Building a Pollinator Pathway at BFD
“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 of the BFD Pollinator Pathway will be constructed using 2,700 square feet of open space that’s at the eastern entrance to the BFD public parking lot fronting North Main Street. Alexandra plans to put in some pollinator pathway signs soon to help indicate the garden area that’s being planned.
“It’s teardrop shape of lawn that extends into the parking lot,” explains Alexandra, who notes that strip of it will extend a bit along North Main Street, as well.
“That’s most of it, but it’s going to be wide enough so there can be a path that goes through it,” she says. “The first step is converting the lawn to workable soil, so that’s what we’re gearing up for now, and raising the funds to get the materials for that.”
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 from many BFD members who are volunteering to help.
“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 [BFD] people using their vehicles to go around and pick that stuff up. And then we’ll have people helping with the soil work and planting in the upcoming months.”
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.”
The BFD pollinator pathway is hoped to grow to also eventually extend to fill some empty lawn space in front of the firehouse along North Main Street as well as open space at the back of the property. Alexandra had also envisioned filling BFD’s parking lot islands with native flowering plants, but now has a different use for those spaces in mind.
“Initially I was going to do the islands in the parking lot, but I’ve decided to reserve those for people that want to donate plants that aren’t necessarily native but support pollinators, because I don’t want to say ‘No’ to anybody. It’s really crazy how many people have contacted me in town saying, ‘I have plants for you,’” says Alexandra. “It’s amazing. I know the chief has also had some ladies his neighborhood who have contacted him with donated plants.”
Speaking of support, the crowdfunding effort took off quickly and, as of press time, was closing in on reaching the initial goal of $1,250. However, as Alexandrea points out, the fundraiser will be up and running for the entire month of July and all contributions are welcome to help this project grow and succeed.
“I’m excited,” she says, adding others can get on board by creating still more pollinator pathways in other areas of town.
“These gardens support the entire life cycle of these animals. 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. “I know there are already other gardens throughout Branford, so we are excited to be a part of that network.”
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