Applied Ecological Services was born in the late 1970s when founder Steve Apfelbaum partnered with his mentor Dr. Jim Ludwig to begin the experiment that became the successful reclamation of the Jackson County Iron Mine.
Apfelbaum and Ludwig collected native prairie seed in the wild to re-vegetate the waste rock and tailings piles because, at the time, there were no native seed nurseries in the Midwest that could provide the quality and volume of seed needed for a large-scale restoration.
The need for seed prompted Apfelbaum to begin his own small nursery, and in 1987, he bought a farm in the flood plain of a clear-running stream in southern Wisconsin and began growing plots of native plants to source the expanding restoration work.
From these humble beginnings, AES and Taylor Creek Restoration Nurseries have become leaders in the burgeoning field of ecological restoration. Early projects were installed by Apfelbaum and two local farmers, Fred Faessler and John Oschner, who brought farm skills and ingenuity to the challenges of planting and harvesting native seed – which isn’t quite the same as corn and beans.
Growth of the company ramped up in the 1990s when AES built a new office, seed barn, and greenhouse complex that dramatically expanded the capability of the firm to take on large projects throughout the U.S.
In the late 90s, the design/build restoration of the 7,200-acre Kankakee Sands project for The Nature Conservancy demonstrated the combination of creativity and science that has become a hallmark of AES throughout its history. Necessity was the mother of invention on such a large, unprecedented restoration. New seeding techniques, establishment of an on-site, project-specific nursery, and other innovations brought the applied science of restoration to a new level of efficiency and proven success.
With growth, AES opened offices in Chicago, the Twin Cities, Philadelphia, New York, Kansas, Iowa, and Ohio to better serve local markets that were developing as the Leopoldian Land Ethic and the applied science of ecology continued to spread across the country.