Native Americans Turning Butterflies Into Businesses
OKEMAH — "It was very exciting, we're really excited about it."Millie Wind is very excited about a new opportunity. It's called Natives Raising Natives and it's a first-ever program for the 900 Thlopthlocco Tribal Members to establish businesses as butterfly farmers."As the Town King, I feel it is important to diversify our tribal economy and this is one way to do that," said George Scott, the Mekka Thlopthlocco Town King.Jane Breckinridge has been raising the winged creatures for 20 years. She says butterfly farming is a $64 million business.
"It is big business and it is growing," she said."There are not enough butterflies available commercially."
A $500,000 grant to promote small business development in rural areas will provide money for starter kits. First, the new farmers must develop their land.
"We've got to give them dirt and little containers, and then milkweed seeds for instance if we're raising Monarchs," Breckinridge said.
Once the plants are big enough, the farmers will receive eggs or tiny caterpillars that will live and grow inside what's called a butterfly castle.
"Castles can be outside, they have the right amount of shade and those caterpillars are safe from all those different predators out there," Breckinridge said.
As the caterpillars grow, fresh food must be provided.
"caterpillars are very hungry, they're tiny and you wouldn't think they could eat much because they're only that big," Breckinridge said while holding up her fingers. "But they eat a lot!
Eventually the caterpillars will climb to the top and turn into chrysalises. A few days later, butterflies will emerge.
"From egg to adult butterfly, depending on the species, about 30-45 days," Breckinridge said when discussing how long it would take to raise the first batch of butterflies.
Once fully grown, they'll be sold to butterfly houses and exhibits, or to be released at weddings or funerals.
"It makes it very memorable and special, and people like that a lot," Breckinridge said.
Both Breckinridge and Wind say in addition to providing employment to tribal members, Natives Helping Natives will promote science education and keep our Oklahoma flowers blooming for years to come.
"We're losing pollinators and people aren't very enthused when talking about bees," Wind said. "But you get them into butterflies and there's a big interest."