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Fighting the Insect Apocalypse in Bayview-Hunter’s Point

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The insect apocalypse is here. The small but mighty base of food webs and vital pollinators the world over are dropping in population at a record pace. To put it bluntly, without bugs, we are in deep trouble. Isaiah Powell and his partner Danielle Calibird Fernandez from Dragonspunk are looking to change this. In Bayview-Hunter’s Point, they have created a garden sanctuary for bees and birds overlooking the Caltrain tracks on Palou Avenue.

Isaiah Powell sits in a patch of blooms that he grew in the Bayview neighborhood – photo by Vita Hewitt

In the garden, pink blooms reach up past my waist. Bumble bees float from one bloom to the next. There is housing thoughtfully placed on the chain link fence for them. Honey bee hives sit at strategic intervals. A Slender Salamander metropolis lives under the hay bales. Children visit from the surrounding neighborhood to marvel at them. Danielle and Isaiah found them while cleaning up the land by the Caltrain tracks nearby. Lady bugs busy themselves on green leaves. Danielle’s eyes light up as she tells me about seeing their first monarchs come though last fall. She is an artist and educator with a history in fashion. Isaiah’s background is in film, farming and music. Both are a dynamic source of creativity and activism.

Danielle cuddles the sweet cat that adopted them. She followed us for the remainder of the visit – photo by Vita Hewitt

Growing up in the SF Bay Area in the 1970s and 80s, we would regularly encounter insects everywhere- beetles in the ground, flying creatures of all sizes buzzing around. Then they were less plentiful.” Danielle says sadly. “Though many people might not share in our delight, care and deep respect for insects, they must understand the implications of these sharp declines and what it spells for future life on our planet.” She adds.

Bumble bees flew from one flower to another in surprising numbers – photo by Vita Hewitt

A lot has been done to transform the land from a bare lot to a thriving insect haven, but they still need help. “Due to the historical abuse and pollution of the land in Bayview, we have found that there are high levels of lead and heavy metals in our soils.” Says Danielle.

In 1946, the U.S. Navy performed various atomic tests. Radioactive waste was carelessly dumped into the San Francisco Bay and basins surrounding Bay View Hunter’s Point. The waters and neighborhood have been suffering ever since. Lead affects the nervous, renal, and skeletal systems.

The garden is located on the edge of Caltrain tracks – photo by Vita Hewitt

Currently, the methods in place for addressing lead pollution within the soil include sampling soil for lead content; selectively removing contaminated soil from the landscape; transporting contaminated soil to a landfill; and then replacing the contaminated soil with fresh soil. This is costly and labor intensive, and we are still left with polluted soil that ends up in our landfills. Though it could be a longer process for removal, mycoremediation has shown to have higher efficiency rates. It is a low-cost, environmentally sustainable practice.” Danielle tells me.

Beautiful artwork by Danielle lines the fence – photo by Vita Hewitt

Isaiah and Danielle are using myco- and phytoremediation to clean the soil. It is the practice of cultivating plants and fungi to clean the soil. Isaiah shows me different parts of the garden where he is cultivating oyster mushrooms. These mushrooms have the remarkable ability to remove contaminants from both soil and water.

Isaiah Powell carefully tending to the native plants he has cultivated – photo by Vita Hewitt

Even with all they hard work, they are limited in how far they can go. The prohibitive cost of officially testing the soil is holding them back. Dragonspunk hopes to connect with universities who can assist them in their quest for clean soil. Each test is around $600.00 and it will have to be done several times. Eventually they hope to bring this practice to other parts of Bayview and beyond.

An agave plant towers over Isaiah – photo by Vita Hewitt

How can you support Dragonspunk?

To donate or learn more about Dragonspunk:
IG: @dragonspunk
Dragonspunk will also be organizing a farmers market this summer!

All photos are by Vita Hewitt

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Vita Hewitt

Vita Hewitt

Vita is a half Chinese-Malaysian, photograph taking, plant foraging, vegetable garden growing, astronaut impersonating, conceptual art creating Bay Area human. She loves exploring the intricacies of the Bay Area Art Scene.