Scattergood Friends School Farm has about 6 acres in vegetables that are rotated with ¼ of the acreage in cover crops, 30 acres of pasture where we raise guinea hogs, Katahdin sheep and beef cattle. For this project, several erosion-prone sections of the Scattergood Farm totaling about 1 acre were converted to perennial prairie with the goal of supporting pollinators and butterflies. Students in the Prairie Management project class planted the prairie and other classes, including this years’ Prairie Management project class and also Ag Research and Biology classes, have been studying its development.
Scattergood Friends School Farm carries out many sustainable practices under the knowledgeable hand of farm manager Mark Quee. These include cover cropping, rotational grazing, worm composting and many other practices. We are always learning and experimenting with different methods to try to make our farm more sustainable.
Students who take part in this project will gain experience with planting and maintaining a prairie restoration, identification and understanding of natural pollinators and how they interact with an organic vegetable farm. Students will learn about natives versus invasives and what constitutes a local ecotype, diverse and forb-heavy prairie mix. Students will learn basic prairie management techniques including looking at populations of different plants for evenness, removal or control of invasives and burning (why and how often it is needed, and how to do it safely). Students will learn basic insect identification skills. Finally students will learn about the ecology of plant-pollinator interactions, both in a prairie habitat and on the farm, and will explore how the farm can be a natural ecosystem, while continuing to provide meat and produce for the community in a sustainable fashion.
Describe the steps involved in conducting the project and the logic behind the choices you made. Please be specific so that other farmers and ranchers can consider what would apply to their operations and gain from your experience.
- Winter 2015: Seeds were planted by Scattergood students. We used planting instructions outlined by Prairie Moon Nursery, where we purchased the seed.
- Summer 2016: Mowing and maintenance as needed. As instructed by Prairie Moon, the prairie was mowed 3-4 times over the first growing season to cut down on weed competition and allow the little prairie seedlings more sunlight.
- September-November 2016: Biology and Advanced Biology classes identified any flowering plants present as well as pollinators present. We had an amazing amount of flowers for the first year, especially from Black-Eyed Suzan and Brown-Eyed Suzan.
- 2017: Maintenance of prairie sections through removal of invasives and burnings (as needed… research has shown that annual or biennial burnings lead to tall grass growth at the expense of forbs, so we will probably minimize burnings only as needed to control invasives).
- 2017: Continued periodic observations by Biology and Advanced Biology classes during times when plants are in flower and students are present (late spring and early-mid fall) of pollinators, recording all data for personal records as well as sending data to Bumblebee watch and other citizen science groups, for example, Project Bud Burst will be used for observing when different flowering plants open.
List farmers, ranchers, or business people who assisted with the project and explain how they were involved. List any personnel from a public agency, such as the Extension Service, Natural Resources Conservation Services or Soil and Water Conservation Districts who assisted with this project. List people from non-profit organizations who helped you.
People we learned from:
- Prairie Ecologists Steven Hendrix (University of Iowa) and Mike Palmer (Oklahoma State University)
- Author and Prairie Restorationist Connie Mutel (editor of the Tallgrass Restoration Handbook)
- Lepidopteran (and retired science teacher) Dennis Schlicht (author of The Butterflies of Iowa)
- Entomologist MJ Hatfield
- INPS (Iowa Native Plants List Serve) – provides good feedback from experts all across the state.
Organizations we worked with:
- Scattergood Friends School classes and crews was responsible for much of the initial labor to get the project going, and then the on going maintenance and data collection.
- Taproot Nature Experience visits our farm frequently and helps with many projects.
Books we studied:
- Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy
- The Tallgrass Restoration Handbook edited by Stephen Packard and Cornelia Mutel
- Tallgrass Prairie Reader edited by John Price
- The Farm as Natural Habitat by Dana L. Jackson and Laura L. Jackson
- (Plant ID guides)
Metrics for Diversity and Citizen Science groups we will use (in the future):
- Bumblebee watch (www.xerces.org/bumble-bee-watch/)
- Simpson-Diversity Index (http://www.countrysideinfo.co.uk/simpsons.htm)
- Great Sunflower Project (www.greatsunflower.org)
- Project Budburst (www.budburst.org)
Although the prairie is still very young, I believe the project was a success. We have been identifying a lot of the plants that were part of the mix and it looks like we had good germination and everything seems to be growing well. Students also are excited to observe the growth of the prairie, and it was especially exciting that so many students had a hand in planting the prairie and now feel ownership of it.
We believe that planting pollinator habitat on erosion prone areas of your farm is a great idea. It will help control your soil runoff but also encourage pollinator biodiversity, which should be priorities for any farmer. We look forward to continuing to monitor the growth of the prairie and the population of pollinators it supports.
The Scattergood Friends School Farm is well suited for outreach. We welcome visitors throughout the year, and are active in many organizations.
- Taproot Nature Experience is an Iowa City after school enrichment program that visits the farm approximately twice per month and is familiar with many of our projects. They will actively explore the prairie restoration.
- We also welcome classes from the nearby school districts of Iowa City, West Branch and West Liberty. When they visit again, the prairie restoration will be a stop on their tours.
- We frequently visit (approximately three times per year) elementary schools in Iowa City as part of their Farm to School Program and can add prairie restoration to our presentations.
- Scattergood hosts a Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) Field Day every other year and will do so again in 2015. This project will be of interest to many PFI members, (we may present on the project formally or informally).
- We also host events for Field to Family in Iowa City, and have given farm tours to guests from the Council on International Visitors to Iowa Cities, Cornell College, Grinnell College, and the University of Iowa, in addition to many Quaker groups from around the country.
- Scattergood maintains an active Facebook presence and the prairie restoration can also be featured there.