Freedom Creek Prairie, LLC, Prescott
Rick and Julie Schafer received customized counseling and QuickBooks™ training from the Iowa Small Business Development Center at Southwestern Community College so they could grow their existing business restoring, reconstructing and preserving prairie remnants and natural habitats.
For almost 20 years, Rick and Julie Schafer of rural Prescott worked for “the other guy” before deciding to start their own business. Julie, who formerly worked as a nurse, and Rick, who was employed in ag retail, had both been interested in prairie land and working with prairie remnants for a long time. They initially did some work seeding for landowners and in 2010, when Julie’s nursing position was eliminated, the Schafers took a leap and started Freedom Creek Prairie, a business focusing on prairie remnants and natural habitats.
While Julie was still a nurse the Schafers started out with a greenhouse, 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.
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 (Conservation Reserve Program) management. The Schafers work closely with individuals who have land in the CRP, which is offered through the United States Department of Agriculture and Farm Service Agency. Through CRP a portion of the land is set aside and not farmed, in order to rest the soil. Rick said Freedom Creek Prairie helps 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 (SBDC) at Southwestern Community College (SWCC) in Creston. Dave McLaren, regional director, assisted the Schafers in developing plans for growing the business.
“He [Dave) was just excellent in helping me get everything put together,” said Julie. Dave and Julie worked back and forth through e-mails and personal meetings to complete a feasible growth plan. The SBDC continues to keep them updated, even today, with opportunities and training available to them.
“The guidance (from SBDC) really helped get the ball rolling,” Julie stated. Dave also assisted them in getting in touch with Brandi Shay, an 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, Freedom Creek Prairie has grown tremendously. During the last year the Schafers 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 and they are selling seed, purchased from a supplier, who shares their vision about prairie habitat.
The Schafers say they are swamped, but they have loved every minute of running their own business and are proud of how it has evolved. “We know what grows here, we know what’s going to thrive and do well in our soil types, and Rick has designed mixes that grow here and are going to be attractive to look at,” explained Julie.
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.
To find out more about Freedom Creek Prairie visit www.freedomcreekprairie.com. The pictures are especially wonderful.