Freedom Field’s new project a touch of beauty

Cardinal flower and blazing star. Photo by Dr. Sonia Vogl

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

We came to renewable energy through our interest in preserving natural ecosystems. This interest continues to influence our efforts.

Since forming the Illinois Renewable Energy Association, we have become involved in several ventures. One of them is Freedom Field in Winnebago County.

Freedom Field has installed a variety of renewable energy systems, including photovoltaics, two types of wind generators, solar heating and nearly unbelievable solar hot water air conditioning. All are computer-connected for instant readout.

Recently, we proposed an installation that differs from the others: a green roof. While the other systems are high-tech, focusing on energy production, the green roof focuses on energy saving. Although green roofs have been used in other places for centuries, they have become more popular here over the past several years. Chicago is well-known for its highly-publicized roofs, part of its program to make Chicago the greenest city in the country.

Green roofs mitigate the heat island effect known to exist in cities—they capture CO2, slow down runoff, especially from sudden downpours, and provide aesthetic benefits.

Bringing up the plants. Photo by Drs. Sonia Vogl

Several basic approaches are available for planting a green roof. Some plant vegetables; some plant sedums in boxes; some plant small trees and complete the picture with outdoor seating. Based on our interest in biodiversity, we chose to go with a prairie roof composed of native plants. Not only does it encourage understanding of and appreciation for ecological biodiversity, its symbolism for the state and its beauty make it especially appropriate.

To assure the roof would remain intact, a rubberized mat covering 2 inches of Styrofoam and a corrugated plastic sheet to allow for drainage were placed under the planting.

After a low-screen fence was installed, semi-decomposed wood chips were lifted from the ground to the roof and placed in the prairie space. Plants in 8-inch pots were set into the chips. The first layer of chips was then covered by a layer of new chips, which reached the level of both the fence and the pots. A small walk in the form of a maze was left clear for servicing and to allow visitors to enter the prairie.

Simply Prairies of Ogle County grew, selected and planted more than 60 native prairie species to provide color throughout the entire growing season from March through November. Pink prairie smoke will herald the arrival of spring; multicolored asters will conclude the annual display. Between them, bright goldenrod, brilliant red cardinal flowers, sky-colored blue lobelia and many more will provide a symphony of visual delight.

Roof preparation: plastic sheet, Styrofoam and corrugated mat. Photo by Dr. Sonia Vogl

The prairie already performs as an ecosystem: as they were being planted, the flowers were drawing butterflies and bees. We are anticipating the arrival of birds.

The roof should be in full bloom as a showpiece for Bioenergy Days Sept. 26-29. It will remind visitors that both cleaner energy sources and protecting ecosystems are integral to developing sustainable economies.

Adults and children alike can visit and reconnect with nature. People need to understand the importance of preserving biodiversity; we need room in our lives for beauty. A prairie roof can provide both.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. The Vogls and the IREA are members of the Environmental Hall of Fame. Dr. Robert Vogl is vice president of Freedom Field, and Dr. Sonia Vogl is a member of Freedom Field’s Executive Committee. The Vogls consult on energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are active in preserving natural areas and are retired professors from Northern Illinois University. E-mail

From the Sept. 8-14, 2010 issue

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