DCTC Landscape Horticulture “Driftless” Tour a Success
Instructors Matt Brooks and Catherine Grant along with 12 students in the landscape horticulture program at Dakota County Technical College (DCTC) recently traveled to the Driftless region of northeastern Iowa and southwestern Wisconsin to tour three very unique horticulture related businesses, to experience the unique geography of the region and to learn about the Native Americans and the effigy mounds they built on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River.
The first stop on the tour was at the Seed Savers Exchange just north of Decorah IA where we heard the history behind the non-profit organization of gardeners dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds. After a picnic lunch we hiked the beautiful grounds including the apple orchard and old growth white pine forest before setting off for the Ion Exchange just north of Marquette IA.
Next stop was at Ion Exchange, Inc. which is a native wildflower and prairie grass nursery located in NorthEast, Iowa, since 1988. Students learned how they grow premium wildflowers and grasses for prairies, wetlands, and savannas and all the hard work that goes into the process. We toured the greenhouses to observe the vast array of planting plugs as well as the production areas where the seed is cleaned, screened and processed for shipment.
The second day of our tour brought us to Star Valley Flowers located in Soldier’s Grove WI. where students and instructors alike were captivated by the bucolic setting of this former dairy farm in the rolling hills of southwest Wisconsin. Owner John Zehrer told the story of Star Valley’s humble beginings and how it has grown to become the largest field-grown cut flower and woody twig producer in the Midwest with 165 acres in production, shipping product across the country from Honolulu to Boston.
Before heading north to Viroqua for lunch at the Driftless Cafe, John loaded us up with beautiful bundles of curly willow and yellowtwig dogwood that the greenhouse students are eager to propagate and plant on campus.
After a post lunch hike at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve in LaFarge WI. it was back to our cabins at the Natural Gait near Marquette IA. for a group dinner, campfire and rest before our next day’s visit to Effigy Mounds National Monument where we enjoyed a guided tour with the park naturalist Jessica, as the gale force winds toppled trees around us!