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Prairie plants and energy

November 7, 2012

Comprehensive Community Solutions students, with leader and plant donor, from left: Taylor Heylmann, Linette Voss, David Smith (on four-wheeler), Asia Benson, Joey Grimmett, Desmond Moore, Katie Townsend and Roger Ross. (Photo by Dr. Sonia Vogl)

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

Several of these columns have focused on prairie planting and emphasized the connection between native plants and energy: both reduced runoff and need for watering; no need to mow or weed; their cooling effect if placed on a roof. This fall, the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) was instrumental in spreading more prairie plantings.

In September, David Smith of Simply Prairies asked IREA to partner with him. He generously offered to donate and install 1,000 potted prairie plants free on a roof or the ground to an organization that will tend them and have an educational program focusing on them, prairie, native areas or restoration.

A simple application form asked if the group had administrative support; where the plants will be installed; and a brief description of the educational program.

Applications were to be judged on the basis of intent and potential impact. The plants were to be picked up in October.

Initially, only one applicant was to receive free plants, but several had excellent plans, so the offer grew.

One of the schools stated there would be an intersection of restoration and native species preservation and energy conservation, since they were involved in Earth Day and other educational events.

Another school will place the plants in the front of the school for visual presentation and beautification to the entrance. They expect it to be a learning experience for both general education and special needs students, who will both become caretakers of history and study the plants and insects that are part of the small ecosystem.

Students can also develop engineering skills by mapping placement of the plants. They expect the native plants will bring joy and a sense of accomplishment to all involved, and bring a sense of pride to the students, staff and neighborhood when they see how working together can make a difference.

The Lorado Taft Field Campus’ application stated they would place the plants in their hillside prairie, but could only accommodate 350 to 500 plants. Since they serve 6,000 children, their teachers and chaperones annually, they have a large audience to educate.

Prairie plants in the DeKalb County parks and schools will be used for community education and for school children. A variety of age groups will learn how prairie plants can retain water and reduce the need for watering.

The first group to pick up plants was from Comprehensive Community Solutions in Rockford. Katie Townsend, their urban farm educator, detailed what they will do with the plants and what her team of students does.

Some students wanted to do something besides building, which has been the CCS’s usual educational activity. They are interested in farming, gardening and nature, so went through a screening process to get into the Green Agriculture Program. Six student leaders who collected the plants will teach classes and train people in their neighborhoods to interpret the urban landscape.

The plugs they received from Simply Prairies will go into a hoop house they are repairing. Another set will be placed at Tinker Swiss Cottage in a joint prairie restoration project that is used for school tours and prairie education, and on a rooftop garden.

With dedicated leaders and interested students, this project will have broad impacts and numerous benefits.

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. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the Nov. 7-13, 2012, issue

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