Abright fuschia-colored flower amidst a blanket of green caught Theresa Long’s eye as she navigated her four-wheeler along a freshly cut path in the 15-acre prairie that is her front yard.
Long had never seen that color of that flower blooming on her property, and she was excited to see it and the butterfly happily drinking up its nectar.
Moments before, Long had pointed out a bare section of prairie just off the path where a deer had likely been bedding down and, minutes later, a deer was spotted running through the grasses.
Such is a typical day at Bethany Springs Farm in Berger.
It’s taken years for Long and her husband Joe to get this prairie and others on their property to this point, and now they’re opening them up for all to see, experience, draw inspiration from and, ideally, learn from by bringing home ideas for creating prairies on their own plots of ground, no matter how big or small they might be.
On Saturday and Sunday, June 23 and 24, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days, the Longs will host a Prairie Paint Out art show/sale and guided botany walks.
Prominent plein-air artists have been invited to set up their easels around the property and capture some of its natural beauty on canvas. The paintings they create will be for sale with 30 percent of the funds being donated to the Missouri Prairie Foundation for its work to protect and restore Missouri’s prairies and native grassland communities.
Everyone is welcome to attend the free family-friendly event, which will feature guided botany tours of the Longs’ 15-acre prairie restoration led by their son, Dr. Quinn Long, who is now a botanist/ecologist with the Missouri Botanical Garden specializing in rare plants, and Dr. James Trager, a biologist/naturalist with the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Shaw Nature Reserve.
Family earth walks will be led by Gary Schimmelpfenig and Christine Torlina from 10 to 11 a.m. on both days.
And a half-hour marionette show performed by Earth Mirrors Marionettes also will be held both days at 1:30 p.m.
The day offers something for everyone, said Long, noting people can come whether they just want to watch the artists at work, enjoy an afternoon outdoors or see the beauty of Bethany Springs firsthand.
“Bring a picnic and join in on the botany walks, family earth walks or watch the live marionette show,” touts the website, www.bethanysprings.com. “Come meet the artists, join in to paint for the day, learn bout native species and enjoy strolling the gardens and prairie.”
If this first Prairie Paint Out goes well, Long said the plan is to make it an annual event.
‘Loss in Genetic, Biological Diversity’
When the Longs purchased their historic 165-acre farm 17 years ago, they didn’t go in with the idea to restore prairies.
Long, who is an artist as well as an art teacher in the Rockwood School District, admits the natural setting of the beauty of the property appealed to her.
“We just loved the land, the wildlife, the old stone house, the community,” she said. “We didn’t have a vision of doing prairie restoration.”
But it gradually became apparent that they had an opportunity to do just that. Long said she knew some basic facts about why that would be a good thing.
Mainly, she knew that the prairies that were here when European settlers first arrived on the continent have today been greatly reduced. She later learned how little actually remains: one-tenth of 1 percent.
The result has been more than a change to the look of the land, the Missouri Prairie Foundation notes on its website, www.moprairie.org. It’s a loss in “genetic and biological diversity . . . in its flora and fauna.
“Native prairie grasslands were once the dominant feature of the American landscape,” the site reads. “Now, tallgrass prairie is more rare than the more famous tropical rainforests.”
What Is a Prairie?
Prairie, the French word for meadow, is “an ecosystem of mostly grasses and forbs (flowering plants) with many other fauna, fungi, the soil, geology and fire playing important roles,” the MPF site notes.
“All elements of a prairie are interdependent upon each other. The prairie is an intricate web, with more of its living mass belowground, in the deep roots of the grasses and flowering plants, than we can see aboveground.”
They Farm ‘Conservation’
The more the Longs read about prairies and all they provide, the more they liked the idea of restoring portions of their property to this native grassland.
They contacted the Missouri Department of Conservation who helped them put portions of their land in a CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) and create a riparian zone, or ecosystem along the banks of their stream.
The Longs put in plantings to stop soil mixing into the stream water and in the bottomland, they planted 1,700 hardwood trees.
Next came creating the prairies, “which is much more involved than just throwing down some seed and letting it grow,” said Long.
“A prairie doesn’t just pop up,” she remarked.
It requires work to plant the native flowers and grasses and remove any invasive species that move in.
The Longs received help in their efforts from the Missouri Prairie Foundation, but also from their son, Quinn, who became interested in the science of prairie plants and the diversity of species after taking an ecology course at Mizzou.
He went on to earn a Ph. D. in ecology and evolutionary biology and did his research on prairies and how to introduce more diversity into an existing prairie.
The Longs use prescribed burns to mimic the natural cycle that originally produced native prairies.
“We do our burns in sections,” said Long, explaining they burn one section of a prairie and leave another section unburned, mainly so the wildlife can have a place to go.
Currently the Longs have about 20 acres of prairie, glade and savanna on their property, but that kind of scale isn’t required to create a prairie, stressed Long.
“Any size yard can be a prairie,” she said, noting their property also features prairie garden beds that most people would think as typical landscaping.
It’s the types of plantings in the beds that make them prairie gardens, Long explained.
A portion of the Longs’ property continues to be used for traditional farming of crops like corn and soybean, but when people ask the couple what they farm they say, “conservation.
“We are conserving the plants and wildlife,” Long said with a smile.
If You Go . . .
To get to Bethany Springs Farm, from Washington, take Highway 100 West to Highway Z. Turn left.
Go 1.7 miles to Horstman Road (a gravel road) on the left.
On Horstman, go 0.09 mile to Bethany Springs Road on the left.
A sign will be posted on Highway Z for greater visibility the weekend of the Prairie Paint Out.
For more information, people can call 573-834-2075.
To read about the artists who have signed up to be part of the plein-air Paint Out, people can visit www.bethanysprings.org.