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Union students visit Irvine Prairie.

December 2, 2019
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Dysart Reporter

Union High School students took some time out of their school day to visit nearby Irvine Prairie to help broadcast seeds over two acres of land on Wednesday, Nov. 20.

"Most of the students have learned about prairie and a basic idea of what it is, but most also don't appreciate the difference between a non-native pasture full of brome grass and a native prairie," Craig Hemsath, a teacher at Union said. "Although a fall planting like this week's work won't instill this in them especially, they do gain the experiential understanding of how land be transformed. Having them take part in what could be the last human led planting on those two acres is a significance I hope they don't forget."

Hemsath's students were each given buckets to broadcast buckets consisting of 50-60 different species of plants in the seed mix over two acres of open field. The students steadily made their way down the field in a line that covered the entire field. Their work was supervised by the Tallgrass Prairie Center (TPC) from the University of Northern Iowa, of which Hemsath once worked with as part of his graduate studies.

Article Photos

Cathy Irvine (far left) with Union High School students after broadcasting prairie plant seeds over two acres, which will grow over the next year.

"We are incredibly fortunate to have such a unique opportunity for our students, it's an incredible chance for them to take part in a project much bigger than the classroom," Hemsath said. "This is something that will last well beyond their high school careers. Along with the labor help with the TPC I'm excited to try and expand the project's reach to include elementary classes as an opportunity for them to experience restoration, native species, and learn about the land."

Yet none of this would not be possible without the donation of 77 acres of farmland by Cathy Irvine back in 2017 after the passing of her husband, David. Irvine was approached by the TPC after attending several of their workshops. The restoration project is being taken in small steps as the TPC mainly works with smaller land contributions.

"We all benefit from Iowa's soil and beauty," Irvine said. "Having some land restored to the way it was before serves as a reminder of prairie's beauty. There's also a component of education for the area schools and college students can use it as a learning lab. They can do soil tests, count plants in a certain area and do research on what conditions are best for planting. Elementary school kids can come identify flowers and animals or start seeds at school to transplant here. Math units can count plants."

Over the next year, prairie plants will take over the acreages much in the same way the last few plots they passed have done. What was once a barren area will thrive with plants and hopefully wildlife suited for the environment.

"It's just thrill because they are enthusiastic and happy to be out of school." Irvine said. "They have an ownership in the prairie now and that's what I want them to take away. I want them to come back and see that the seeds they've spread have grown. This prairie will last their lifetime."

Irvine hopes that Hemsath's classes will continue to come in the future as the Irvine Prairie continues to grow. After their work, the students were rewarded with cookies and hot apple cider before returning to the bus.

"Seeing the various stages of reconstruction and what those 77 acres can be someday will hopefully plant a small seed for the wonder of what Iowa used to be," Hemsath said. "A seed that will hopefully continue to grow throughout their lives into further participation in the protection and restoration of native landscapes across the state."



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