Bridge of Seeds
Chicago Native Seed Gardens Study
PART IV: Conclusions
Though some people are ready to "get some seeds in the ground" as
soon as possible, there are many questions and challenges associated
with this proposal that need to be resolved first. Those with asterisks
(*) are considered critical.
Financial: finding sources of necessary capital and
creating a market for the final products.
- analyze overall economic feasibility of the native seed garden
- create relationships with lenders or grant organizations
- investigate economic development options
- market development*
Business and ecological management: identifying
willing business managers and supplying them with the assistance they
- create relationships between community, economic and
- increase access to technical training
- make technical resources and information more accessible*
- create standards for the use of genetically appropriate native
- tap into existing business training programs
- measure results of pilot projects
Land: securing stable properties and identifying
appropriate plant materials.
- identify interested communities*
- obtain legal assistance for property use or acquisition
- identify supply of starter seeds or plants
The following lists are the tasks that should be accomplished prior
to initiation of a native seed gardens businesses to ensure greater
chances for success.
For individual business managers.
- recruit individuals interested in proposal*
- identify communities and gain their support
- analyze economic and ecological characteristics of test
- produce a sample business plan based on a specific property
- generate interest amongst buyer(s)*
- create a network of information sources and consultants
- provide training in native plant propagation
- provide training in native seed harvesting and processing
For community groups. (as above, plus the following)
- recruit groups interested in proposal*
- identify suitable organizational structures
- define financial and legal requirements of members
Including evaluation measures in any program will allow other
organizations to view the relative success or failure of the proposal.
The evaluation can be based on the desired values of any group as long
as it is explicit and built into the project from the beginning. Several
general examples are listed below.
- progress milestones
- number of projects completed
- financial returns
- quantity of seed and plant materials produced
- job creation
- job quality
- media response
Depending on the goals of the organization or individual involved,
the for-profit, native seed gardens concept can succeed using resources
and programs that currently exist. The proven ability of commercial
nurseries and small scale gardens to enhance biodiversity makes this
proposal appealing for addressing ecological needs. Similar benefits can
be attributed to the proposal in the areas of environmental education
and outreach. Given the extreme demand for native seeds and lack of
supply the potential for business success is also great, but much more
difficult to predict. Addressing environmental justice issues through
this idea shows great potential for progress as well as difficulty.
The current standards for maintaining and enhancing biodiversity in
the native plant and seed industry range from very high to detrimentally
non-existent. Since new businesses would have to meet or exceed the
higher standards to gain market share the potential for further
biodiversity enhancement is great.
Education and Outreach
The current volunteer seed gardens have been very successful in
providing educational opportunities in conservation issues. Numerous
public conservation agencies use native gardens as educational and
constituency outreach tools. The high population densities of inner-city
neighborhoods coupled with the comparably small land areas and costs
makes these an efficient means for providing these benefits. Adding a
for-profit component would allow conservation groups to reach out to a
more diverse range of people.
In general the current native seed market is disorganized and
inefficient leaving numerous gaps in product types, product quantities
and costumer services. This presents opportunities for the creation of
new businesses to exploit these markets. However, this lack of structure
is also a serious impediment to steady business growth. There is little
doubt that singular, determined organizations or individuals will
succeed in creating native seed gardens for profit in inner-city
locations. It is unlikely that a widespread native seed industry can be
established at this time in low income or minority, inner-city
communities as described in the original proposal.
Several challenges need to be addressed including: is there a desire
for this type of business in these communities?; overcoming the
difficulty in acquiring land for gardens; and seasonal cash flow
The forces that effect environmental justice issues are deeply
imbedded in the basic values of our society. Environmental racism is not
just about the color of people's skin or their beliefs. It is a tool for
the exploitation of people and the environment for the economic and
political gain of the powerful few.87
This proposal is not inherently more beneficial in addressing this need
than any other business, except in one way. By creating economic
opportunities and restoring Earth the native seed gardens proposal could
enable the communities that have suffered the most to heal the wounds of
environmental racism and environmental degradation through economic
- Create a Native Seed Growers Association or Cooperative that would
develop and expand the native seed market. This would directly serve
the existing growers and any new businesses created under this
- Create native seed genotype and viability quality control programs
based on a commercial certification. Require adherence to these
standards from the beginning.
- Base any programs on for-profit, economic practices which are
supported by commercial organizations to enhance the chances for
success of the individual businesses. Avoid creating for-profit
businesses that must rely on government or non-profit assistance for
their basic survival.
- Provide capital or loans for a pilot project with the stipulation
for evaluating and documenting the process as part of its funding
- Engage or contract with an economic development organization to
scrutinize the financial aspects of this proposal. Use this as an
opportunity to create meaningful relationships between the
conservation and economic communities.
- If a portion of the industry is to be community based and managed,
commission a study to investigate the community economic development
benefits prior to creating this type of business structure.
- Avoid the overuse of money to create these businesses. Technical
knowledge and ecological savvy drive the current and projected
- Make all programs or assistance responsive to local (community
level) needs and make them as site specific as possible.
- Sponsor a series of small, focus group sessions including people
from all of the necessary areas of interest.
Future Implementation Options
There are several possible paths that should be explored for creating
an overall framework for creating and supporting these businesses.
- Create a separate, non-profit organization to coordinate and promote
the idea of the native seed gardens concept in Chicago.
- high cost
- scope may be too narrow to sustain funding
- very long start-up time
- very flexible
- lacks financial resources
- Create a new, for-profit program as a subsidiary of an existing
non-profit organization to assist new seed garden businesses.
- high cost
- greater risk for non-profit sponsor
- long start-up time
- moderate flexibility
- lacks financial resources
- Expand current government agency programs that match the goals of
- e.g. University of Illinois at Chicago, Cooperative Extension
Service's Urban Gardening Program or City of Chicago's Master Gardeners
- low cost
- very experienced the horticulture field, very little experience with
- long start-up time
- moderate response time
- Create a industry group based association to implement this concept.
- moderate cost, but profit oriented
- moderate start-up time
- very flexible and responsive
- greater management challenges
- Create a local cooperative made up of the current native seed
- low cost
- quick start-up
- very experienced, may not serve immediately needs of inner-city
- flexible and very responsive
- Recruit several determined business managers and let these
- very low cost
- moderate start-up time
- lack of experience and resources
- very little support available
The experience of creating this study was terrific. Almost everyone
that was contacted for information or ideas was curious if not thrilled
with the basic concept of creating native seed gardens. The broad
content and multitude of ideas contained herein is a credit to the many
people who contributed their creativity to this process. Performing the
research for this study has in itself generated further interest in the
idea and has taken it beyond the conceptual phase.
Given the ongoing losses of biodiversity due to destruction of native
ecosystems, habitat fragmentation and environmental degradation perhaps
the question of whether or not to create for-profit, inner-city seed
gardens to preserve biodiversity should be: "Do we have a choice?".