Carter Steadman has a passion for Monarch butterflies and has been a driving force in pollinator restoration efforts at 50 West Vineyards for the past three years.
“I’ve been interested in insects all my life,” the 12-year-old said, recalling his earliest efforts poking at ant colonies.
In second grade, he became interested in butterflies. “I realized they were in trouble,” he said. Today, the J. Michael Lunsford Middle School sixth grader holds the title of Monarch Ambassador at 50 West Vineyards.
Mike and Diane Canney opened the vineyards and tasting room high above Rt. 50 west of Aldie a little over a year ago to complement their Sunset Hills Vineyard near Purcellville. They are strong supporters of environmental efforts at their vineyards, and sought the help of Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy volunteers to provide pollinator fields to support Monarch butterfly and blue bird restoration projects. Carter works with Loudoun Wildlife’s Patti Psaris at 50 West, where he is the youngest volunteer.
Last month, Carter welcomed 44 scouting friends to his house, where he has a backyard Monarch habitat, as part of his Seeds of Life initiative at the vineyard.
He taught them about Monarch migration, the importance of native plants for pollinators, and—the most fun—how to make the “seed bombs” destined to germinate in the spring to provide food and habitat for the butterflies before they set off on their migratory trek.
Loudoun Wildlife volunteers Ann Garvey, Ed Clark and Carter collected seeds of Joe Pye weed, mountain mint, ironweed, brown- and black-eyed Susan, aster, blanket flower, rosin weed, bee balm, coneflower, and especially milkweed, for the Monarchs.
“They look like little chocolate truffles,” Carter said of the 200 native plant seeds encased in compost balls.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, Carter and girl scouts gathered at the vineyard to distribute the seed balls in a large uncut field, pressing them into the damp soil for germination and making sure the high winds did not blow them away.
Recently, the Canneys presented a donation to Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy—specifically to Carter as its representative for the work he has done.
Carter says recent data continues to show an alarming decline in Monarch numbers.
“The best thing you can do to save the Monarch other than planting milkweed is to tell other people about it and ask them to plant milkweed, too,” he said.
Saturday’s field “seeding” is destined to create the first of several monarch zones on the farm, according to Diane Canney.
The monarch migration cycle from Mexico to Canada and back involves at least four generations to complete. If all goes well with the germination project, the 50 West monarchs should hatch in May-June.
“Carter is an inspiration to my staff and our customers and his amazing mother, Sarah,” Diane Canney said.
Carter was a hit with visitors at the winery on Saturday, she said, calling him a “role model for all of us in a time when doing more good deeds without fanfare should be applauded.”
Carter is not sure whether his interest will translate into a career. “Insects and conservation could be possible. I haven’t made up my mind,” he said, although his mother would not be surprised.
“It’s what he spends his free time doing,” she said, recalling he planted his own garden at age 9.
“It’s been a strong, strong passion over almost all my entire life,” Carter said.