Freedom Creek Prairie Builds Beauty and Habitats in Nature
For almost 20 years, Rick and Julie Schafer of rural Prescott worked for “the other guy” before deciding to start a business and try it on their own. The Schafer’s, Julie who was formerly a nurse and Rick who was employed in ag retail, had been interested in prairie land and working with prairie remnants for a long time. They started doing some work seeding for landowners and in 2010, when Julie’s nursing position was eliminated, the Schafer’s “took a leap” and started Freedom Creek Prairie, a business focusing on prairie remnants and natural habitats.
Freedom Creek Prairie has a mission of promoting habitat as nature intended through the discovery and study of remnant prairie areas, thoughtful preservation, restoration, and reconstruction with local eco-type seed. According to Rick, the business has really evolved to get to the point they are at today.
The Schafer’s started out with a greenhouse, while Julie was still a nurse, growing native plants from seed they had collected off prairie remnants. They use the greenhouse plants to make production beds where they can grow larger quantities from remnant seed they hand collect. Rick said in the beginning it had not dawned on him that he would also be able to sell the seed.
Julie said they haven’t been able to expand the greenhouse due to the quick growth of the “other side” of their business—seeding, tree clearing, controlled fire burns, and CRP management. The Schafer’s work closely with individuals who have land in the CRP (Conservation Reserve Program), which is offered through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Farm Service Agency (FSA). Through CRP, a portion of the land is set aside and not farmed to rest the soil. Rick said Freedom Creek helps these landowners in CRP from start to finish, assisting with tasks such as clearing trees, seed bed preparation, and custom seeding.
Early on in the creation of Freedom Creek Prairie, Julie made contact with the Iowa Small Business Development Center at Southwestern Community College in Creston. Dave McLaren, regional director, assisted the Schafer’s in developing plans for growing the business.
“He (McLaren) was just excellent in helping me getting everything put together,” said Julie. The Iowa Small Business Development Center and Julie worked back and forth through e-mails and personal meetings completing a feasible growth plan. The Center continues to keep them updated, even today, with opportunities and training available to them.
“The guidance (from Dave) really helped get the ball rolling,” Julie stated. McLaren also assisted them in getting in touch with Brandi Shay, independent consultant for the SWCC Business Resource Program, who trained Julie in QuickBooks and, according to Julie, helped them get the financial side of the business established.
Since inception, the Schafer’s business has grown tremendously. During the last year they have added five part-time employees and they have become experts in their field, known for their work throughout southwest Iowa and northwest Missouri. Custom native seed sales are one of the biggest enterprises of their business. They are selling seed, purchased from a supplier, who shares their vision about prairie habitat.
The Schafer’s say they are swamped, but they have loved every minute of running their own business and are proud of how it’s evolved.
“We know what grows here, we know what’s going to thrive and do well in our soil types, and he (Rick) has designed mixes that grow here and are going to be attractive to look at,” explained Julie.
Freedom Creek Prairie, 2574 190th Street, Prescott, IA 50859
Rick & Julie Schafer, owners