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Business has grown for ecological restoration company in rural Brodhead

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GINA R. HEINE
August 22, 2011
— People for years told Corrine Daniels, “Oh, you’re that weed farm down in Avon bottoms.”

Not anymore.


“That’s definitely changed,” said Daniels, principal nursery manager of Applied Ecological Services Restoration Nurseries.


Residents in the Brodhead area now know the ecological consulting/contracting firm and nursery as “the wildflower farm.”


“Local people … get what we’re about,” Daniels said.


The company’s vision is to “bring the science of ecology to all land-use decisions.”


As the knowledge and understanding of native plants has grown, so, too, has the company’s business. Applied Ecological Services has branches in Illinois, Minnesota, Kansas, Pennsylvania and New York.


The headquarters ended up on Smith Road in rural southwestern Rock County because of cheap land. Owner Steve Apfelbaum started the company in 1978 and settled in rural Brodhead after buying a foreclosed dairy farm in 1987, President Carl Korfmacher said.


“It was pretty small for a long time … The type of work we do—ecological restoration work—wasn’t really an industry like it is now,” he said. “We were doing projects that were $10,000 or $20,000 a pop. Now, we’re doing projects for a couple million.”


The company portfolio now boasts award-winning projects from around the globe. Applied Ecological Services grew quickly in the late 1990s, when business doubled each year for three or four years, Daniels said.


One of the catalysts, Korfmacher said, was the restoration of the Flambeau Copper Mine near Ladysmith.


“It was at the time the biggest project we’d ever done,” he said. “It was kind of complex. It had to be really high quality—a lot of regulatory and public scrutiny of the project, and it turned out really well.”


A prairie of native plants at the site now offers food and shelter for birds, insects and animals. The plants’ deep roots filter stormwater and help it infiltrate, reducing runoff and replenishing the aquifer.


“A lot of things were done in an engineering, old-fashioned way that are now done in a much more sensitive way, and we’ve been able to show the financial value of ecological restoration for our clients,” Korfmacher said.


For example, if a business had a stormwater problem, people used to think, “Let’s just build a giant big pipe and get this out of here,” said Matt Kocourek, public relations and marketing coordinator.


Instead, natural grasses can soak up all the water and save millions of dollars, he said.


Ecological restoration is one of the fastest-growing industries, Korfmacher said, but Applied Ecological Services has had trouble finding qualified employees who can research with a broad ecological view.


Projects include:


-- Working for the state Department of Natural Resources to inventory remaining natural areas in the driftless area near Platteville.


-- Supplying seeds and plants for the Chicago O’Hare International Airport runway expansion project.


-- Consulting on a mine restoration in Peru.


Locally, the company’s wildflower and native plantings can be seen outside Brodhead Memorial Public Library and the prairie behind Brodhead Congregational United Church of Christ.


Taylor Creek Restoration Nurseries, the flagship nursery and one of the company’s three nurseries, stretches into the fields behind the Brodhead offices.


A greenhouse, shade house and hundreds of acres provide plants and seeds for southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. The nursery handles about 700,000 plants a year and about 500 species.


Seed orders range from thousands of pounds to paper bags. The seed cooler resembles a library with rows of shelves stacked with containers of hundreds of types of seeds.


It’s tough being understood sometimes, Kocourek said. He recalled an incident in 2008 when the city of Janesville sent a notice to Asbury United Methodist Church to mow its natural prairie because it violated the noxious weed ordinance. Applied Ecological Services staff educated the city council, which revisited its ordinance.


“We’re trying to change some opinions and views about things like that,” Kocourek said.


ABOUT THE COMPANY

Applied Ecological Services and Taylor Creek Restoration Nurseries has the following as its Brodhead headquarters:


-- More than 400 acres in seed production


-- A 9,900-square-foot greenhouse


-- A 3,000-square-foot shade house


-- One acre of shaded woodland production


-- One acre of outside potted plant production


-- A 5,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art seed cleaning facility


-- A 4,000-square-foot, temperature- and humidity-controlled seed storage area


The company has about 50 employees in Brodhead and about 120 total across the country.


The company has earned a long list of awards, including the Business Friend of the Environment Award given earlier this year by the Wisconsin Environmental Working Group. It was for the company’s work in managing the restored native landscapes of stormwater detention facilities in Appleton.



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