Summer on the Prairie

We’re kicking off summer with our annual Picnic on the Prairie, where we host Niman Ranch hog farmers, our country neighbors and local community.  It’s a potluck, so we ask guests to bring something homemade with seasonal, local, and sustainable ingredients.  We plan our picnic around the Summer Solstice to celebrate the vibrant abundance brought on by the summer months.

Joyce Lock, creator of Foodie Fight, at the Farmer Picnic on the Prairie.
Joyce Lock, creator of Foodie Fight, at the Farmer Picnic on the Prairie.

Our picnic on the prairie is something we started through our work with Niman Ranch.  We gather together and share our passion for rural Midwestern summers by exploring our native habitat together while enjoying home-baked rhubarb pies from Phyllis Willis, made with her famously flakey pie crust from lard she rendered herself.

Anne Willis-Happel, Sarah's resident exchange student, Paul Willis, Sarah Willis, and her daughter Sophia at the Picnic on the Prairie.
Anne Willis-Happel, Sarah’s resident exchange student, Paul Willis, Sarah Willis, and her daughter Sophia at the Picnic on the Prairie.

It’s a wonderful experience to go walking through the prairie with my daughter, Sophia, and my French daughter (for one month), Lucille, looking for salamanders and collecting chicken eggs, occasionally seeing a fawn resting in the grass. It’s our time to enjoy one another while sharing our love for the Midwestern agricultural roots of previous generations and the new value we have found in the “old ways” of doing things.  Here in North Iowa, salamanders come out around this time and make their way across the prairie.

Looking for wildlife on the prairie.
Looking for wildlife on the prairie.

The bees are also busy – according to Laura Jackson, director of the Iowa Tallgrass Prairie Center at the University of Northern Iowa, there are over 100 different native species of bees here carrying on the important work of pollination. Jackson spoke at our picnic last year, which we combined with a Practical Farmers of Iowa Field Day where we heard from various guests about the precious resources our native prairie has to offer.  We also learned about STRIPS, a project at Iowa State University focusing on how the integration of prairie strips in an overall farming operation can significantly reduce soil erosion, improve ground water quality and an increase the diversity of plants and animal species.  Each year we find something entirely new to appreciate about each other and our surroundings here on the prairie.

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