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When my two brothers and I first got our farm in 1966, we decided to grow corn on the only field that wasn’t too steep for cultivation. It was about six to eight acres. We asked our neighbor and longtime friend, David Kolka if he’d be interested in planting corn in the field for a share of the profits.

For three years, if I remember correctly, David planted and harvested corn from this sandy, stony field. Our goal was to make enough money from the corn to pay the taxes on the place. David made little money. We made little money. We pulled the plug on corn growing on the field.

A few years later we divided the farm into three equal pieces, and later I purchased my brother Darrel’s share, which included most of the old cornfield.

Along the way, I had been researching the history of the place, discovering that Tom Stewart, a Civil War veteran, had homesteaded the farm in 1867. I wondered what he saw when he first broke this land.

I began calling the former cornfield “the prairie.” I set out to restore it by doing nothing, except keeping out the brush and trees that wanted to grow there. For a couple of years, we had weeds, but then, slowly the native grasses and wildflowers began returning. 

Now, some forty years later, we have a prairie of wildflowers and grasses. Something new almost every week as new wildflowers come into bloom.

THE OLD-TIMER SAYS: Nature has its own way of healing—if given a chance.

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work go to www.jerryapps.com. 

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