Harvesting the Prairie: The 1995 Fermilab Prairie Seed Harvest

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As cool weather and warm colors herald autumn’s arrival, the Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, in keeping with a fall tradition, is offering area residents a chance to join in the Laboratory’s annual Prairie Seed Harvest, scheduled for Oct. 7th and 28th.

Fermilab Prairie Project organizers teach volunteers to recognize particular plants and then clip the ripe flower heads for seeds. Fermilab uses the seeds to enrich newer prairie tracts at Fermilab and to share with other prairie restoration projects. Although a mechanical harvest is also done, the public harvest is vital for grassland growth.

With mechanical harvesting, “we can’t get as many of the specialized plants as we can when we send the people out,” says Bob Lootens, lead groundskeeper. He adds the public activity ensures the grasslands “will be here for future generations.”

The fall event is becoming increasingly popular, with about 150 people participating last year, including many families looking for a way to spend time together and get their hands dirty.

Prairies, or native American grasslands, are thriving communities rich with plant and animal life, all interrelating in a complex ecosystem. Tall grass prairies once blanketed northern Illinois, “The Prairie State.” However, during the area’s settlement in the 19th century, agriculture consumed all but a tiny remnant of the native grasslands.

Fermilab, the nation’s premier high-energy physics laboratory, has a long-standing dedication to restoring the prairie, working for more than 20 years to revive the historical grasslands on its Batavia site. More than 1,000 acres of tall grass prairie are in various stages of reconstruction, thanks in part to the effort of volunteers who have participated in past seed harvests.

This year’s harvest will take place on Saturday, October 7 and Saturday, October 28, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Volunteers are welcome to spend as much or as little time as they wish, and refreshments will be provided.

Persons interested in participating should wear field clothing and gloves, and are encouraged to bring pruning shears and paper grocery bags, if possible. On-site directional signs will direct volunteers to harvest sites

In case of bad weather on the scheduled dates, please call the Fermilab switchboard at (708) 840-3000 to see if the harvest is canceled.

For more information, call the Fermilab Public Affairs Office at (708) 840-3351.

(Note to Editors: There is a map of Fermilab’s prairies accompanying this release. Photographs of past seed harvests are available from the Fermilab’s Office of Public Affairs. Also, Fermilab will have a photographer at this year’s harvests).