Harvesting the Future

Perhaps one of FermiLab’s better-known features is its premier particle physics research laboratory, located right in Batavia, Illinois.  However, only a handful of people know that FermiLab is also home to one of Illinois’ last largest, natural prairies.  With less than a tenth of one percent of the world’s natural prairies still in existence, it is no wonder the Roads and Grounds Department in FermiLab works hard to restore the last remainder of the prairie to full health! One of the steps the organization takes to aid Mother Nature is the bi-annual Seed Harvest, typically held in October and November.  The event has been around since 1974 and is open to all volunteers–all that is required are a pair of simple garden clippers and plastic bags.  The volunteer process itself is even simpler.   The coordinators of the event inform the volunteers of which specific plant seeds to clip and collect by showing pictures and examples of the seeds themselves.  The volunteers then go around and harvest the seeds, leaving some seeds on the plant and spreading half of the seeds collected around the prairie.  Due to the damage the prairie has suffered within the last century,  the volunteers are encouraged to spread the seeds in as many locations as possible, since some plant species tend not to grow in every area.  By spreading the seeds to different locations, optimal plant growth and diversity are achieved which in turn can help foster a better ecosystem within the prairie itself. The Roads and Grounds Department then collect the last half of the seeds and place them in greenhouses to be re-planted in the Prairie the following year.  Although the event itself generally lasts between three and four hours, approximately 100 acres of prairie is covered during one event and over 25 different plant species have been collected throughout the years.  In fact, just this year, the department successfully attempted to restore Illinois tallgrass — a native plant to Illinois.  Although the prairie still has a long way to go, the idea of the Seed Harvest is to diversify the prairie as nature intended and it is in learning about it that we learn to care for the prairie.  For Any questions regarding the Seed Harvest, or for information on joining the cause, please visit: http://sustainability.fnal.gov/ecology/prairie/volunteer.html

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