Becoming Native though a Prairie

By Woody Woodruff

I have now successfully completed 25 years of prairie burns at Mud Prairie. Mud Prairie was, and is, an Illinois Historical Native Prairie recorded as such in the archives of historical accounts. Though the original prairie had been farmed for decades when I came into ownership, some of the remnant native flora and fauna held on.  Some of you may wonder, “Why regenerate a native prairie?” The key word is native.

What is native? Some common synonyms for the word include: innate, inherent, instinctive, intuitive, natural, hereditary, homegrown, homemade, local.

Why a prairie? A prairie ecosystem functions by sustaining a diverse, ecological balance which avoids the depletion of any of its natural resources.  Soil, water, plants, animals, insects, and air are our natural resources, and they are fundamental to sustaining life on earth. Since restoring this prairie, with native grasses and forbs, vitality has returned to the land through healthier organic matter levels, rejuvenated springs, and prospering numbers of birds and mammals, like quail, pheasant, turkey, deer and rabbits. I can see how the prairies would have supported so many bison in their hay day.

The main benefit for me has been its environmental cleaning of the rainwater run-off into a nearby crystal clear pond. Clean water makes for healthy fish and a great place to swim. All of these functions are being achieved naturally with little to no help from me. The only inputs I add are mowing around the boarders of the prairie and conducting a prairie burn rotation across parts of the prairie once every year. After that it’s hunt, fish, hike, swim, and enjoy all of the diverse life that the prairie supports. This connection to Mud Prairie makes me think that we as a society should re-evaluate our relationship with nature.

Should our fundamental commitment as human beings be solely to feed ourselves? Or should it be feeding the system? Being that the majority of humans now rely on the consumption of business goods to pay for industrial processed foods, it seems we have chosen to feed the system. Is this a natural system?  Through industrial agriculture we are witnessing constant erosion of our topsoil, degraded soil organic matter, impaired streams, poorer air quality and changes in climate. These environmental problems have developed from a disconnect regarding where our food comes from and not nurturing the natural system that is so vital to its production. It’s clear to me after years of observing the ecosystem services of a prairie that we are missing out on where humans need to fit into nature. A native prairie is far more efficient at feeding its community than humans have been in their focus on mono cropping and weed & soil sterilizing.

Many of us are under the illusion that we are living off of a natural system, and that our current agricultural practices are OK and even necessary for human growth. We have shifted our energy, and nature’s energy, into supporting business and industry in hopes of solving humanity’s problems. History has shown us that time in nature will solve these problems. Plant medicines and energy efficiency from biomimicry are key aspects in linking humans back to being a part of nature and not ruling over nature. Let’s go native!