The Project

No one in recent times has tried this. On a square-mile section of South Dakota farmland near Brookings, a few agricultural pioneers have challenged the status quo of growing annual grains by re-establishing and farming diverse mixtures of perennial grassland, the native vegetation of the region. Their objectives are to demonstrate how to make a sustained and earned living from products produced on restored grassland while protecting and enhancing the natural environment. In so doing, their project will expand the tall grass prairie, one of the hemisphere’s most endangered ecosystems.

This “Prairie Farm” project contrasts with most modern agricultural practices and commodities that are less sustainable because of large fossil fuel inputs, environmental degradation in the form of soil erosion, ground and surface water pollution, biocide residues, and impoverishment of natural resource capital such as biodiversity (including wildlife) and soil carbon (a form of climate protection).This project is an example of “multi-functional agriculture,” defined as the joint production of standard commodities (e.g., food and fiber) and ecological goods and services such as clean air and water and high biodiversity (Jordan et al. 2007. Science).

This project was conceived and is managed by EcoSun Prairie Farms, a South Dakota non-profit corporation (501c3) formed in April 2007. It received tax exempt status and classification as a public charity from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in February, 2008.

2013 is our sixth year of operation of the Prairie Farm. During this period, 350 acres of former cropland were converted to native grassland, nearly half of the 35 formerly drained wetlands have been restored, and 75 acres of degraded CRP have been rejuvenated by the planting of warm season grasses. Current income streams include native plant seed, hay, and grass-raised beef. Future income streams may include cellulosic-based biofuels, ecotourism, and fee hunting. Environmental benefits include an explosion of grassland birds (especially bobolinks), game birds such a pheasants, and spring frogs as well as improved soil quality (including more carbon), increased surfacewater in wetlands (flood water retention), and recovery of shallow aquifers.

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