BIXBY, Okla. -- The main crop that people will find growing at Jane Breckinridge's farm is the kind that sprouts wings.
She and her husband run the Euchee Butterfly Farm, where they grow and sell different species of butterflies.
"Yes, butterfly farming is a real thing," Breckinridge said, laughing. "It sounds like an eccentric hippie hobby, which is not too out of my wheelhouse, but butterfly farming is a real industry."
As improbable as the business might seem, Breckinridge said butterfly farming is part of a growing industry that accounts for more than $70 million in sales every year in the U.S.
"We raise butterflies to sell to zoos, institutions and butterfly houses," she said. "If you've been to the butterfly house at the Tulsa State Fair, that's one of ours."
The Euchee Butterfly Farm sits on acreage south of Bixby that her family has worked for five generations. Just like the fields her ancestors tended for years, she is now taking the same care of the butterflies at every stage of life -- from the wriggly moment they hatch, to the time they spread wings and fly.
"To me it's very personal," Breckinridge said. "It's very meaningful to see this land that has sheltered my family for so many years and generations and Depression and all these things that happened. To be able to use that to help the butterflies, to help people understand the butterflies, to bring people joy with butterflies, that's very meaningful."
She would now like to share the success that she and her husband have had. They started a jobs program called Natives Raising Natives to teach members of the Creek Nation how to grow and sell butterflies of their own.
"A lot of the lands here, as we know here in Oklahoma, some of them are pretty scrubby," she said. "They're not ideal for regular farming, but, when you're raising butterflies, you're working with nature instead of against it."
Breckinridge currently has about 20 tribe numbers enrolled in the program, and she hopes to expand it to include a lot more in the future. She said Natives Raising Natives not only benefits people and areas struggling with economic development.
She said the butterfly population is dwindling, and so is its food source. That's why she also grows native plants for them, like milkweed, in the greenhouse on her farm.
"Butterflies are in a lot of trouble right now," Breckinridge said. "Monarchs have lost 22 million acres of habitat in the last 10 years. Their numbers are way down. Other native butterflies, same problem. Pollinators, we're just seeing a lot of problems."
She hopes more people will join the fight to save the butterflies from such a precarious situation.
"When you hold one of these beautiful little butterflies in your hand that is an absolute miracle and you look at it and think, man, you may be extinct in 10 years if I don't get up and do something about it," Breckinridge said, "then it personalizes it for people."
To learn more about the Euchee Butterfly Farm, visit this link .
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