Becks launch City Prairie, planting native plants to help fight climate change

By Scott Carlson

In their quest to turn patchy grasses into pollinator paradises, Connor Beck and his father Bob Beck are working to stem climate change one yard at a time.

The Becks last winter launched St. Anthony Park-based City Prairie (cityprairie.net), whose business is turning rugged lawns and worn-out boulevards into prairie grasses. Their idea is to stimulate yards for bees, butterflies and other pollinators. In the process, they hope their small steps help stem adverse climate change activity which has been germinating for years.

City Prairie began as an idea back in 2014, following a formative year for Connor at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota.

“During my spring semester, I took a class called ‘Ecofeminist Philosophy: Men, Women and the Environment,’ and it opened my eyes to the threat climate change poses to humanity and all life on earth,” Connor said. “But more importantly, I learned that we have many ways to address climate change and heal the earth.

“One solution I researched was planting prairie. The long roots of native prairie can reach over 20 or 30 feet down, which means each plant can pull down an incredible amount of carbon and store it in the soil. There, the carbon feeds microorganisms that build soil.

“So, really, City Prairie began out of this idea of planting native plants to fight climate change one yard at a time,” Connor continued. “But prairie plants can do more than fight climate change. They can support endangered native pollinators with food and shelter, they build healthy soil and they absorb and purify runoff.”

Connor, his sister and their parents planted their first prairie from seed in 2014. “Within a few months, we already had monarch caterpillars coming back to munch on butterfly milkweed sprouts that were popping up,’ he said. “If you give nature half a chance, it will find a way to return.”

After that initial prairie, Connor and his dad planted several more prairies from seed in his parents’ suburban yard in Prior Lake. It was an idea that received a lukewarm response. But their prairie grass ambitions were met enthusiastically when Connor moved to St. Anthony Park.

“You don’t have to explain climate change, the importance of native plants or the plight of pollinators,” he said. “Our neighborhood gets it, and people here care about the planet.

 “Last winter, my dad and I finally decided to give our (business) idea a concerted effort,” Connor said. “The stars had aligned. Right idea, right place, right time.”

“After seeing how much people got active over tree removal on Cleveland Avenue, I knew my neighbors cared deeply about the environment and our community,” Connor said, referring to a tree removal project that raised the ire of many people in 2023 when Ramsey County was reconfiguring a section of Cleveland Avenue near the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus. “They were willing to take meaningful action to protect both.”

Aside from finding a receptive community for City Prairie, Connor credited his father for helping get the business off the ground.

“I could not have done this without the support of my dad,” Connor said. “He pushed it forward, and then I pushed it forward. We both help each other stay motivated, and we both work together on each new project.”  

Scott Carlson is the managing editor of the Bugle.

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