Volunteers set record at annual Prairie Seed Harvest
AD's Jean Slaughter and John Rea, a volunteer from Batavia, IL, examine different types of seed collected at this year's second Prairie Seed Harvest on Nov. 3.
On Saturday, Nov. 3, for the 33rd year in a row, students, scouts and volunteers gathered in Fermilab's Main Ring to help harvest seeds. The volunteers were there as part of the laboratory's Prairie Seed Harvest, an event that facilitates the collection of seeds as part of Fermilab's prairie restoration efforts.
Martin Valenzuela, lead groundskeeper for Roads and Grounds, estimated that this harvest attracted more than 300 volunteers. "We definitely had a record number of volunteers," said Martin Valenzuela, whose department facilitates the harvest. "It was nice to see so many people interested in helping the prairie."
The annual event continues the legacy of community outreach and prairie restoration started by Bob Betz, a Midwest prairie expert and professor emeritus at Northeastern Illinois University. Betz started the seed harvests, which have helped restore more than 1,200 acres of prairie at Fermilab during the last 33 years.
Each winter, the Roads and Grounds staff stores and processes the seeds collected by volunteers. In the spring, some seeds are planted at the laboratory in areas where planned prairie fires occurred to kill off invasive, non-natural plants. Other seeds are exchanged for different plant varieties with local county forest preserves or donated to more than 40 schools and non-profit organizations so that they too can start natural prairies. "We believe, 'Why not spread the wealth?'" Valenzuela said. "We're all in this together."
Virginia Babcock, Chairman of the Batavia Women's Club Conservation Department, appreciates far-reaching effects of Fermilab's seed collection. "It's good to know that the seeds are going beyond the prairie," she said. Babcock and other members of the Batavia Women's Club have volunteered and served lunch at the harvest for the last ten years.
Other longtime seed harvest volunteers enjoy learning about the prairie and its plants. Kevin Collins of Carol Stream, IL has volunteered at the Prairie Seed Harvest for the last seven years. He met Dr. Bob Betz at his first harvest. "I'd try to sponge up anything he said, every bit of information," Collins said. "It's been so rewarding to see how the prairie progresses each year."
-- Haley Bridger
Two volunteers collect seed from prairie within the Main Ring at this year's second Prairie Seed Harvest on Nov. 3.