WBEZ | prairie http://www.wbez.org/tags/prairie Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Eat it: The Nature Museum serves up food for thought http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/eat-it-nature-museum-serves-food-thought-106246 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/IMG_0759.jpeg" style="height: 407px; width: 610px;" title="Food truck? (Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum)" /></p><p>The first thing you see upon entering the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum&rsquo;s new exhibit on food is a 19<sup>th</sup> century hand plow, its modesty a bit disarming as the climax of a walk-up whose walls are splashed with projections of grain nodding majestically in the wind. But that simple tool, which seems downright primitive in a time of <a href="http://www.wbez.org/tags/gmo">genetically modified organisms</a> and <a href="http://www.epa.gov/region07/water/cafo/">concentrated animal feedlots</a>, was revolutionary.</p><p>Steve Sullivan, the Nature Museum&rsquo;s senior curator of urban ecology, said the diverse suite of native species that scientists now see as a hallmark of ecological resilience looked more like a mess to the area&rsquo;s white settlers.</p><p>&ldquo;Illinois was bulletproof,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;It was an intact ecosystem.&rdquo; Settlers didn&rsquo;t know how rich the soil was, in other words, because they couldn&rsquo;t access it. Once John Deere helped them turn the soil, they changed the landscape rapidly. Less than one one-hundredth of one percent of Illinois&rsquo; prairie remains today.</p><p>But the bucolic family farm phase that most people picture when they think of homesteaders on the prairie didn&rsquo;t last long, said exhibit curator Alvaro Ramos. For industrial capitalists, efficiency is the mother of invention &mdash; concentrated, mechanized farms quickly took root.</p><p>&ldquo;Now we&rsquo;ve got a lot of food,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;but how good is it?&rdquo; Ramos said the point of the exhibit is not to sow nostalgia, but to push visitors to reexamine their own relationship with food &mdash; and by extension the Earth &mdash; that sustains them.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/IMG_0848.jpeg" style="width: 610px;" title="The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum's President and CEO Deborah Lahey pushes a 19th-century plow replica with an exhibit guest. (Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum)" /></p><p>Placed throughout the exhibit are &ldquo;human stories&rdquo; placards holding up local examples of agricultural stewardship from past and present: The Murphy Family <a href="https://www.facebook.com/65thandwoodlawn">maintains a community garden at 65<sup>th</sup> and Woodlawn</a> in Chicago; <a href="http://chicagodefender.com/index.php/news/city/14900-fresh-moves-mobile-produce-market">the Fresh Moves truck</a> nourishes food deserts with local produce; <a href="http://www.chiappettimeats.com/">the Chiappetti family</a> lost their savings during the Great Depression, received farmland as repayment from their belly-up bank, and turned a subsistence enterprise in lamb-raising into an inter-generational industry.</p><p>&ldquo;We want to empower people,&rdquo; Sullivan said. &ldquo;By using your neighbor&rsquo;s example, you can see how you can have an impact.&rdquo;</p><p>(Sullivan&rsquo;s impact on the exhibit goes beyond his intellectual input. The taxidermy chicken and rabbit on display? &ldquo;Leftovers from my dinner,&rdquo; he said.)</p><p>Buying local produce isn&rsquo;t going to resurrect the vast swaths of prairie that once blanketed the Midwest &mdash; the deep-reaching root systems of its native grasses holding fast to black soil, nourishing bison and prairie chickens &mdash;but that&rsquo;s not the point. Ramos, the exhibit&rsquo;s curator, said <em>Food</em> is not a history exhibit. All he wants is for visitors to leave knowing that every time they lift a fork or shop for groceries, they&rsquo;re stepping into nature.</p><p><em>&ldquo;Food: The Nature of Eating&rdquo; is open March 23 through Sept. 8 at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.</em></p><p><em>Chris Bentley writes about the environment. Follow him on Twitter at </em><a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley"><em>@Cementley</em></a><em>.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Sat, 23 Mar 2013 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/eat-it-nature-museum-serves-food-thought-106246 Restoring prairieland in Calumet's industrial corridor http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/restoring-prairieland-calumets-industrial-corridor-104751 <p><p><object height="465" width="620"><param name="flashvars" value="offsite=true&amp;lang=en-us&amp;page_show_url=%2Fphotos%2F34610267%40N05%2Fsets%2F72157632463820710%2Fshow%2F&amp;page_show_back_url=%2Fphotos%2F34610267%40N05%2Fsets%2F72157632463820710%2F&amp;set_id=72157632463820710&amp;jump_to=" /><param name="movie" value="http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=122138" /><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true" /><embed allowfullscreen="true" flashvars="offsite=true&amp;lang=en-us&amp;page_show_url=%2Fphotos%2F34610267%40N05%2Fsets%2F72157632463820710%2Fshow%2F&amp;page_show_back_url=%2Fphotos%2F34610267%40N05%2Fsets%2F72157632463820710%2F&amp;set_id=72157632463820710&amp;jump_to=" height="465" src="http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=122138" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="620"></embed></object></p><p>Sandwiched between the Bishop Ford Expressway and the Little Calumet River and within sight (and occasionally smell) of two landfills, Beaubien Forest Preserve is an unlikely swath of wet prairies and old-growth oak trees amid the industrial patchwork of Chicago&rsquo;s far Southeast Side.</p><p>Each month Laura Milkert, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County Site Steward for Beaubien, leads volunteers on workdays to help maintain the Preserve&rsquo;s 135 acres. On Saturday they practiced a kind of eco-time travel, removing invasive species that have crowded out native species like white and burr oaks, redtop grass and rough blazing star. The goal is to restore a habitat that more closely resembles the area&rsquo;s original prairies and wetlands.</p><p>Though 209 native plant species have been identified at Beaubien, biodiversity has plummeted since invasives took root. Native species like big bluestem grass and buttonbush are not just visually appealing &mdash; they hold the soil against erosion and harbor wildlife. Biodiversity in prairie systems <a href="http://www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1890/03-5273?journalCode=ecap">can have a dramatic impact on an ecosystem&#39;s properties</a>.</p><p>In January, of course, those iconic (and exquisitely named) wildflower species would not be visible anyway, but the frozen ground afforded the volunteers a chance to clear away the invasive species that have colonized Beaubien without trampling the rest of the forest floor.</p><p>The invasives are the usual suspects for Northeast Illinois: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/news/botanic-garden-combats-buckthorn">buckthorn</a> and honeysuckle, mostly. The shrubs grow voraciously, crowding out sunlight otherwise destined for young oaks and other native plants. Volunteers sawed and hacked through the plants&rsquo; spindly branches, leaving oaks and other native species intact. They piled the brush onto a bonfire and applied herbicide selectively to the stumps of cleared invasives.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Beaubien_1938_0.jpg" title="The site of Beaubien Forest Preserve in 1938. (Raw Imagery: Illinois Natural Resources Geospatial Data Clearinghouse, Illinois State Geological Survey / Illinois Historical Aerial Photography 1937-1947. Georeferencing and image processing by Field Museum Staff.)" /></div><p><a href="http://calumetstewardship.org/news/featured-place-beaubien-woods-forest-preserve#.UOslEYnjli1">Once an important stop on the underground railroad</a>, Beaubien is situated directly east of Altgeld Gardens, the neighborhood where <a href="http://www.wbez.org/programs/afternoon-shift/2012-11-05/altgeld-gardens-four-years-later-103659">Barack Obama got his start as a community organizer</a>. Maintaining the forest preserve is community work, too, according to Milkert.</p><p>&ldquo;The story of Beaubien is it&rsquo;s a real collective effort,&rdquo; she said. Other volunteers with Friends of the Forest Preserves clear away cottonwoods with chainsaws, some 350 local students had hands-on ecology lessons onsite last fall through&nbsp;<a href="http://www.fieldmuseum.org/ceep">Calumet Environmental Education Programs</a>, and a group called <a href="http://www.fishin-buddies.net/">Fishin&rsquo; Buddies</a> connects local kids to nature through fishing trips to Beaubien&rsquo;s Flatfoot Lake. Students, interns and volunteers logged more than 1000 hours of work at the site in 2011, Milkert said.</p><p>Stephanie Ryan, a graduate student at Northeastern Illinois University, also named community among her reasons for spending Saturday morning in the woods. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s something we need more of these days,&rdquo; she said.</p><p><em>Follow Chris on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley">@cementley</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 08 Jan 2013 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/restoring-prairieland-calumets-industrial-corridor-104751 Native prairie plants come back to Illinois http://www.wbez.org/news/native-prairie-plants-come-back-illinois-104361 <p><p>Native plants including rare species are coming back under power lines in a research project in northern Illinois.</p><p>The Chicago Botanic Garden, ComEd and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources are working together to convert overgrown utility corridors into native landscapes.</p><p>On research plots at Illinois Beach State Park, nearly 300 different plant species were recorded, including 40 newly identified species.</p><p>Plants have reappeared that once were common staples for early Midwestern settlers such as the ground nut and the scouring rush. Ground nut&#39;s meaty roots were boiled and eaten during winter. Stalks of the scouring rush were used to scrub pots and pans.</p><p>By 2016, project organizers hope to use what they&#39;re learning to restore native vegetation under thousands of miles of power lines throughout northern Illinois.</p></p> Thu, 13 Dec 2012 08:44:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/native-prairie-plants-come-back-illinois-104361