It is hard to believe that less than two hundred years ago the Midwest was a mosaic of unique and diverse prairie plants. This rich community of natives played incredible ecological roles: wildlife habitat, erosion control, even vegetative persistence in spells of flooding and drought. Prairie devised the "black gold" in which thousands of acres of crops thrive in the heartland today. Due to societies' need to engage this land in order to feed the masses, less than 1/10 of 1% remnant prairie remains. Because of the obvious benefits native grass and wildflowers present, a movement is underway to repopulate these ecosystems.
Dan Allen, founder of Allendan Seed Company, recognized the demand for such indigenous species in 1980 and set out to fulfill this need for prairie. Currently, Allendan Seed is one of the largest producers of native prairie grass and wildflower seed. Thousands of pounds wholesale and retail, are shipped all across the United States. Allendan Seed produces over 250 species of native grass and wildflowers.
The business began and remains family operated. Dan and Sonia Allen began farming conventional row crops in 1976 after graduating from Northwest Missouri State with degrees in Agronomy and Education respectively. Throughout the 90's, their four children migrated home to farm upon graduating from Iowa State University. Chad Allen manages and runs the native grass and wildflower production fields. Angela (Allen) Barker is responsible for purchasing, sales, as well as warehouse and inventory control. Scott Allen operates the sod farm sector. Finally, Kelly (Allen) Hayes manages the green houses and irrigated production fields. When a guest touring the farm commented, "You must have won the lottery," Dan responded, "No, I was just fortunate that all my kids came back to help run the business. To be successful you have to have people who are truly dedicated and love what they do."
Growing native plants takes patience and persistence. Dan recalls planting his first 15 acres to native grass. It would take two years to produce seed. "The challenge," Dan remarks, "is to think like a plant. In order to gain maximum seed production, you have to recognize the most favorable environmental conditions each species demands and make them available."
By 1985, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) developed. (The federal program was organized to protect land susceptible to erosion and other environmental hazards. By planting vegetation in sensitive areas, it is possible to conserve the land for future generations.) "The CRP really fell in line with what we were doing," Dan says. Since then, he has expanded his seed business exponentially. Diversification is one of Dan's most essential business practices. "To expand our business, diversity is an absolute requirement. That way, we can indicate which entities are economically viable," Dan comments. By using this philosophy, Allendan Seed is able to supply the volatile demands to their clients. He says, "We attend conferences and tradeshows not to talk, but to listen. We acknowledge what people need and want, and then provide it. It's as simple as that."
An executive order issued in 1998 stated all material used in or on federal land must be of native origin, making the Department of Transportation one of Allendan Seed's largest clients. Also, the CRP set aside thousands of acres enabling land to be planted entirely with native species. Dan believes this movement of "political conscience" (to recover indigenous species and reconstruct the prairie biome on government lands, roadsides, and acres that are not involved in gardening or agriculture) is a positive one. He states succinctly, "It is the responsible thing to do."