Over the last five years, we’ve converted 25 acres (5 acres per year) of agricultural land to native tallgrass prairie at Westport Prairie! We do this by collecting prairie seed from nearby remnant prairies that once made up the historic Empire Prairie. While this is an impressive accomplishment worth celebrating, we still have ~175 acres of agricultural land at Westport to plant to prairie. The more we plant, the more seed sources we have to collect from. This means our plantings will grow larger and larger each year. In fact, this winter our planting will be 6.5 acres; next year it will be 7+ acres. 

So how do we collect enough seed to make these planting possible? A decent amount is collected by our summer interns and monthly volunteers. Starting about three years ago, the bulk has been collected by Kaylee Nelsen. From late September through November, Kaylee spends evenings and weekends drying, processing, and weighing the seeds of each prairie plant species. She’s got a knack for this kind of work, and it’s very impressive! Most people have trouble identifying plants in full bloom, but Kaylee can identify them when they’re all brown and shriveled up. Because of the important work Kaylee does for Groundswell and for conservation, we want to highlight her here. So, here’s what Kaylee has to say:

“This fall will mark my third season helping collect native seeds at Westport Prairie as part of Groundswell’s effort to convert cropland back into native prairie. When I was first recommended for the role, I had just finished my master’s degree in environmental conservation from the Nelson Institute and was looking for something to occupy my time while searching for a full-time job. The calming and grounding nature of native seed collecting quickly grew on me, and by November I was fully enamored with the complexity of the remnants along with the ambiance of sights, sounds, and smells. The following spring, I was employed full-time working in conservation with Good Oak Ecological Services and continued to collect seeds part-time for Groundswell in the fall. There is a great quote in the book Noah’s Garden by Sara Stein that poetically sums up why conservation is important to me.

‘Remove the pheasant’s cover or the butterfly’s flower and you have erased its space. The less variety of habitat the landscape offers, the less space there is until, when all is mowed, even an expanse the size of a golf course becomes just a hole in the world.’

 I am grateful to have this opportunity to work with the wonderful Groundswell staff and volunteers to fill some of the holes in our world.” –Kaylee Nelsen