Missouri Prairie Foundation Bestows 2023 Awards

August 22, 2023 | News

The Missouri Prairie Foundation’s Annual Dinner, held on August 19, 2023, is a celebration of Missouri’s prairie legacy. During the event, the 57-year-old prairie conservation organization and land trust paid tribute to six awardees.

“Missouri’s remaining prairies are rare and priceless treasures,” said David Young, Missouri Prairie Foundation President. “Protecting and promoting them requires dedication and commitment from many people. Our award program recognizes individuals who have made or are making a positive difference in the conservation of the region’s prairie legacy and in the promotion or protection of native plants.”

The Missouri Prairie Foundation 2023 awardees are:

2023 Donald M. Christisen Prairie Volunteer of the Year: Clifftop of Maeystown, Illinois- The nonprofit Clifftop organization has, as an all-volunteer group, protected some of the rarest original prairie habitats in southwest Illinois, including blufftop prairies, and also carries out important land stewardship, outreach, and education. Clifftop was founded in 2006 and stands for Conserving Lands In Farm, Forest, Talus, Or Prairie. The organization’s mission is to promote the protection of the Mississippi River bluffs corridor in Monroe, Randolph, and St. Clair Counties, Illinois. Clifftop works with private landowners, county, state, federal, and non-governmental agencies to slow or stem threats to southwest Illinois’ bluff lands and keep them productive, healthy, and beautiful. Clifftop owns five preserves totaling 1,140 acres and stewards them with prescribed burns, brush clearing, trail maintenance, and control of invasive plants. The group also holds workshops and seminars on the region’s natural history, wildlife, and land stewardship practices. Clifftop organizes field trips—on-the-ground and up-the-bluffs—to help more people appreciate the natural splendor of the region and carries out many other outreach and educational activities. Learn more at www.clifftopalliance.org.

Photo of MPF President David Young (left), Laura Schaefer, and Joann Fricke by Hayley Howard

2023 William A. Davit Prairie Communicator of the Year: Julie Farstad of Kansas City, Missouri- Julie Farstad brings the beauty, joy, and benefits of native plants to her Marlborough neighborhood in Kansas City. Paint is her medium, and her passion is grounded in the ecology and elegance of native plants and her fierce determination for an equitable world—in all neighborhoods. Farstad is a professor at the Kansas City Art Institute where she is Co-Chair of the Painting Department. Outside of work, she raises thousands of native plants and gives them away to neighbors at a lemonade-style stand in her yard. She also began a public art project called “Flowers for Marlborough.” With the permission of landowners, Julie has painted beautiful native plants on the boarded-up windows of abandoned houses in her neighborhood. In 2022, Farstad and the Missouri Prairie Foundation partnered on a project that involved her creation of beautiful native plant murals on bridge underpasses adjacent to Rachel Morado Plaza. She also held numerous art workshops for children and adults in her neighborhood and held three native plant painting events at Marlborough Elementary School. Farstad has fostered new connections among her neighbors through their love of native plants. Her work honors the legacy of the people who first called this now urban region home and honors its current residents. Learn more in this KCUR story about Farstad’s murals here

Photo of Julie Farstad (left) and MPF President David Young by Hayley Howard

2023 Dick Dawson Prairie Pioneer of the Year: Rick Means of Morrisville, Missouri- More than 20 years ago, Rick Means restored 40 acres of a field completely covered in eastern red cedar back to a dazzling, ever-changing carpet of wildflowers. This was no ordinary field. Means had an inkling that this was a very special place, and he was right. He worked at the Local 101 Hoisting Trust in Polk County, just south of Bolivar. The Trust owned a 40-acre tract of land adjacent to its training center, which had grown up into eastern red cedar, but a few prairie plants were present, providing clues to the original landscape of the area. Means single-handedly went to work clearing the cedars. He also carried out many annual prescribed burns on the property, and his restoration work was transformational. In 2020, Rick learned that the Trust was going to sell the land, and, fearing that it might be developed, contacted the Missouri Prairie Foundation, which was able to purchase the tract, now known as Schuette Prairie, that same year. Means is not a biologist, which makes his actions all the more impressive. He knew this was a special place, and, thanks to his initiative, hard work, and perseverance—which are all hallmarks of a pioneer—he made sure this prairie was protected. 

Photo of Rick Means (left) and MPF President David Young by Hayley Howard

2023 Bill T. Crawford Prairie Professional of the Year Award: Courtney Masterson of Lawrence, Kansas
Courtney Masterson is an ecologist and the Executive Director of the nonprofit Native Lands Restoration Collaborative in northeastern Kansas. Under her leadership, the Collaborative engages in prairie restoration with a particular focus on community education. Masterson earned a Master’s degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Kansas. She has been teaching ecology, biology, environmental science, and field botany at local colleges and in community settings for more than 10 years. Known and admired for her emphasis on the importance of human relationship to the prairie, when Masterson leads prairie hikes, she often introduces plants to the crowd like they are old friends, sharing information about their edible and medicinal value as well as their historical relationships to humans. Masterson has spearheaded innovative restoration projects in northeastern Kansas that have made a tremendous positive ecological impact. She also regularly leads controlled burns on many prairie sites in the winter. Through volunteer work days on these projects, she educates the community and helps volunteers develop skills to become stewards of the land themselves. 

Photo of Courtney Masterson and MPF President David Young (right) by Hayley Howard

The August 19 program also included the announcement of two awards from the Missouri Prairie Foundation’s 23-year-old Grow Native! program:

2023 Grow Native! Native Plant Pioneer: Mike Reed of Sikeston, Missouri- This award recognizes individuals whose past work has been foundational to the advancement of the native plant industry and movement. The 2023 award recognizes Mike Reed. Before he retired this year, Reed worked as a fisheries biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), first in St Louis and then in Cape Girardeau. His work over more than 20 years, however, included much more than fisheries. He also promoted the use and culture of appropriate native aquatic and wetland plants for MDC-managed wetlands and impoundments. Reed learned how to propagate and establish native plants for wetlands. He applied that knowledge, working largely behind the scenes, with MDC staff to establish native plantings on MDC areas. One poignant example of Mike’s pioneering work is the use of native plantings of emergents, such as pickerel weed, around the edges of Cape Girardeau City Park lakes to reduce nuisance Canada geese issues. This model has been successfully emulated in Columbia, at Stephens Park Lake. Reed worked diligently with the interdisciplinary team that carried out the renovation and redesign of portions of MDC’s Duck Creek Conservation Area in Missouri’s Bootheel. This visionary re-design of an MDC intensively managed wetland area included adding multiple water depths and integrating desirable native plantings. These units have become a showcase of progressive wetland design. 

Photo of MPF President David Young (left) and Mike Reed by Hayley Howard

2023 Grow Native! Native Plant Protector: Neal Humke of Edwardsville, Illinois- To enjoy the benefits of native plants in the native plant industry, the original habitat of native plants must be protected. For this reason, in 2020, the Grow Native! program created the Grow Native! Native Plant Protector Award. Neal Humke is the Fire and Stewardship Manager for the L-A-D Foundation, a private operating foundation founded by the late Leo A. Drey. The Foundation is dedicated to the responsible management of Pioneer Forest in Missouri’s Ozarks and also acquires and preserves outstanding areas of natural, geologic, cultural, or historic interest. Humke has supported the Foundation’s prescribed fire and stewardship activities since 2009 as a partner and contractor, and he joined the full-time staff in 2014. One important project is the restoration of the shortleaf pine-oak woodland at the Virgin Pine/Randolph tract along Highway 19. Humke supported the first reintroduction of fire at this site in 2009, while working for a partner agency, and has continued to expand and improve the restoration project. As a result of his fire management leadership, the woodland structure has improved, shortleaf pine is regenerating, and the herbaceous understory has returned with increased richness and diversity. During Humke’s tenure, the Foundation’s fire operations have grown to include management of igneous woodlands and glades, fens, rare plant populations, and other woodland sites covering more than 3,000 acres. Humke also routinely locates species of conservation concern and important natural communities, continues to hone his botanical skills, and is helping with the first systematic natural features inventory of Pioneer Forest.

Photo of MPF President David Young (left) and Neal Humke by Hayley Howard

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