Minnesota Landscape Arboretum: “Powerhouse Plants” exhibit offers well-timed reminder of plant-based energy

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

There are things happening in the world right now, says farmer Greg Schwarz, that might make people reconsider alternative energy sources in a positive way.

A new exhibit called “Powerhouse Plants” opened last Saturday at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, and it offers a look at how plants “create energy to fuel your body, life and imagination.”

The exhibit runs through October 10 and is open to everyone who purchases the general admission to the Arboretum grounds ($9 per person for non-members; free to members, students at the University of Minnesota, and to children 15 and under). The arboretum is located a quarter mile west of the intersection of Highway 41 on Highway 5.

Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA), Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council and the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest are major sponsors of the exhibit.

The exhibit has been staged outdoors and gives the viewer the opportunity to “experience energy from the ground up, in a series of lively vignettes and demonstration plantings of energy crops,” according to the communications materials of the Arboretum.

The section devoted to energy crops is called, “Bio-energized.” There are also exhibits devoted to plants that can be used in gourmet food recipes, and there is also an exhibit of art inspired by plants.

“The first thing you see when you walk into the Bio-energized section is this old VW Bug that is completely covered with living, growing plants. They also have a 1950s-era tractor covered the same way—it’s eye-catching and it will get people to think about plant based energy,” said Schwarz, who farms in Le Seuer and serves as chairman of MCGA’s Food and Bio-Energy team. Schwarz is a founding member of the farmer-owned energy cooperative in Winthrop—Heartland Corn Products.

Sections of corn and soybeans include placards and posters that describe what goes into ethanol and biodiesel production. Plantings of fast-growing poplar trees and switch grass represent next generation biofuel feedstocks. The placards throughout the exhibit ask questions to get people thinking.

“The Arboretum gets over 300,000 visitors per year,” Schwarz noted  “Different events go all summer long and they have a great restaurant—it’s a package that attracts a lot of people who make this a daylong activity. People who walk the grounds will have the opportunity to see the Powerhouse Plants exhibit and I think it will provoke thought and discussion for a lot of people.  Any time you can have an open debate and some good discussion on how we are doing and what we are doing and the direction this country is taking with energy production—that’s a good thing.”

Schwarz and other members of the Food and Bio-Energy team attended an exhibit preview for sponsors held on Thursday night. Grower leaders in attendance included Jerry Larson, MCGA VP Tim Dritz, Dale Tollifson, Chad Willis, Jerry Ploehn, as well as MCGA Executive Director Tim Gerlach, and MCGA Communications Director Mark Hamerlinck.

Visiting information:
HOURS Open 363 days a year (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas)
GROUNDS 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. or sunset (whichever occurs first)
BUILDINGS May – October Monday – Saturday 8:00 a.m.* – 6:00 p.m. Thursday (June, July, Aug only) 8:00 a.m.* – 8:00 p.m. Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. November – April Monday – Saturday 8:00 a.m.* – 4:30 p.m. Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

For information about the exhibit go to
http://www.arboretum.umn.edu/powerhouseplants.aspx

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