NORTH MANKATO — Tom Peterson didn’t plant a native prairie around his business in order to hear the sparrows sing in the morning. Nor did he do so because prairie grasses hold rain water in their deep roots, cutting down on run-off pollution.
He didn’t even have a particular affinity for grasslands in 2005, when Creative Company, which publishes children’s books, moved to its Howard Drive site in North Mankato.
The choice at that time, he said, was one of style over substance. His architect said the natural look of a prairie would complement the modern, sharp lines of the building.
But since that time, Peterson has come to enjoy the five acres of prairie for its own sake. He’s not the only one.
The Many Rivers Chapter of the Prairie Enthusiasts recognized his business Monday with its Conservationist of the Year award.
It hasn’t gone perfectly.
Their first attempt to create the prairie failed and went to weeds because they tried to establish the plants without expert help. After that, they hired Prairie Restoration to do the work of planting and maintaining the prairie. Maintenance consists of twice-annual application of weed-killing chemicals. They also set a fire once every three years to repel non-native grasses and invigorate the soil with the nutrients of burned grasses.
The city of North Mankato has been supportive after its concerns about noxious weeds were allayed, Peterson said.
Utilities, though, have damaged the grounds with their vehicles, often believing the prairie to simply be weeds.
“You’re pioneering. You’re going to get beat up along the way,” said club member Henry Panowitsch.
But the benefits of the prairie were especially evident on this hot July afternoon. Prairie plants’ thick roots help them retain water, so they don’t require the care of lawns, which Panowitsch calls the “green desert.”
Flowers, such as golden Alexander and purple lead, were in bloom. Prairie birds such as field sparrow and grasshopper sparrow have been sighted here. Five acres is enough space to support the insects birds need to eat and nest here.
Seeds from about 30 flowers in this prairie are being used in Rasmussen Woods to help establish a prairie near Troost Pond.
Scott Seigfreid, president of the prairie club, said he hopes other businesses follow Creative Company’s lead and establish prairies of their own.