Put Down Your Books and Go Outside!

Feeling like your semester has picked up all of a sudden? Starting to wonder if you might leave the Grinnell campus anytime before fall break? Then perhaps this weekend is the perfect time to get outside and away from campus, if only for a short while. This Saturday, from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m., the Prairie Festival will give students and community members alike the chance to soak up the last of the sun and revel in the coming of the harvest season, with a day’s festivities out at the Conard Environmental Research Area (CERA).

“It’s really just to give people who are excited about prairie a chance to go play outside,” said Elizabeth Hill, CERA Manager. “And [to give] people who didn’t know anything about prairie, or CERA, or Iowa’s landscapes a sort of birth into what’s going on in our world.”

Organizers at the Center for Prairie Studies (CPS) have scheduled a wide array of celebratory food, art and music to appropriately capture the tradition of fall celebrations of the land.

“Autumn is the best time of year to get together,” Hill said. “It’s when people come together to celebrate the land [and] the bounty.”

Indeed, the bounty at CERA this weekend will be abundant, with food supplied by everyone from local restaurants Relish and Prairie Canary to home-baked goodies from Hinegardner’s local apple orchard and local farmer Ann Brau.

“Ann Brau is making her absolutely to-die-for garlic paste and homemade bread,” said Jon Andelson ’70, CPS director and professor of anthropology. “That’s a total ‘don’t miss it.’”

The food won’t be the only entertainment provided either. While you snack on the fruits of the local harvest, the festival continues with some eclectic local music acts throughout the afternoon. The festival will get things going with the traditional-country music presented by Red Tale, with singers hailing from the Meskwaki, Ho-Chunk-Lakota and Yaqui Native American tribes, including Grinnell’s own Stephanie Snow ’03.

Professor Tony Perman, Music, will then lead the College’s Mbira Ensemble in taking the prairie stage next.

Iowa City singer-songwriter duo Dave Moore and Dustin Busch will complete the afternoon’s musical entertainment, gracing the prairie with their home-grown folk and country tunes. The event organizers are certainly excited to bring such a diverse collection of musical talent to CERA for the Grinnell community.

“Our musical groups are all different and very unique,” Hill said. “They offer different reflections of the Iowa landscape, from blues music to the Meskwaki-inspired music.”

With the music in the background and some scrumptious snacks at hand, festival-goers will get to participate in the fall harvest themselves by helping out with prairie seed harvesting.

“We hope to get some help from people collecting prairie seed for reseeding purposes,” Andelson said. “That will be fun and actually help contribute to the cause!”

Some of the seeds collected during the day will be used immediately, in the day’s artistic endeavors, coordinated with the help of the Faulconer Gallery.

“We’ll be using the seeds in art projects, [including] papermaking and cyanographs,” Hill explained. “It’s art for big kids and little kids!”

The prairie will provide plenty of inspiration for art, music and more, as vibrant fall colors cover the prairie landscape at CERA.

“The prairie is just beautiful right now,” Hill said. “[There is] such an amazing spectrum of colors in the fall.”

There is no better time to take a short break from campus life and step into the prairie and the extended Grinnell community. The CPS is also providing transportation to and from CERA at 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., so students can get to the prairie with flexible schedules.

“Our goal is to have fun and to get more people out to CERA that might not otherwise have come,” Andelson said. “[We want] to mix up students and community members, and to help us out with a little bit of seed harvesting.”

If the prairie festival is out of reach, Hill encourages students to use the weekend’s fair weather and time of year to discover Grinnell’s community.

“It would be wonderful if students just wanted to spend the weekend exploring their surroundings,” Hill said. “Everyone thinks they’re at their craziest right now, but it’s almost winter. … Get to spend a little time outside—put your books down and go outside!”

Heart art made of elymus grasses (contributed)
Heart art made of elymus grasses (contributed)