Help Restore the Prairie at Fermilab

Media contact

Batavia, IL. As summer winds down and the tell-tale colors of autumn emerge, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory once again invites its neighbors to help harvest prairie flower seeds as part of its 20-year effort to restore one of the few tallgrass landscapes remaining in all of Illinois.

The prairie harvest has become a popular fall tradition. It drew well over 400 eager volunteers last year, from scouts and nature enthusiasts to families and retirees.

Fermilab staff teach the volunteers how to recognize certain prairie plants and how to clip the ripe flower heads for seeds. The harvested seeds will be collected in barrels for planting in newer prairies on the Fermilab site or for donating to prairie restoration projects around the Midwest.

“The seed is used to enrich young prairie and help build diversity into the grasslands,” explained Bob Lootens, Fermilab’s prairie specialist.

While the Roads and Grounds Department harvests the area mechanically, the machinery can’t gather as many of the specialized plants, especially those that thrive close to the ground. That makes the work of volunteers critical to the effort to restore the prairie.

While Illinois is known as the “Prairie State,” very few healthy, functioning prairie ecosystems remain. Most of these native American grasslands disappeared as agricultural uses of the land spread.

Efforts to restore the tallgrass prairie at Fermilab began in 1974, when Northeastern Illinois University biologist Dr. Robert Betz proposed to Fermilab’s founding director Robert Wilson a novel experiment: to recreate a prairie on a scale never attempted before. Fermilab, which now claims 1,100 acres of restored prairie, recently dedicated the 385-acre tract where the experiment began to Dr. Betz.

This year’s harvests will take place on Saturday, September 26, and Saturday, October 24th, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Volunteers are welcome to spend as much or as little time as they wish. They should wear field clothing and gloves, and bring pruning shears and paper grocery bags. Refreshments will be provided. Anyone planning to bring a large group should contact the Roads and Grounds Department at (630) 840-3303.

Road signs at Fermilab will indicate the location of the harvest site.

In case of bad weather on the morning of the harvest, those interested in participating should call Fermilab’s switchboard at (630) 840-3000 to see if the harvest is canceled.

For more information, call Fermilab’s Public Affairs Office at (630) 840-3351.