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Great Lakes Ecosystems
Begin Hierarchical Links EPA Home > Great Lakes Ecosystems >End Hierarchical LinksGreen Landscaping > Bridge of Seeds > Part Four
Part 1: Context and Needs
Part 2: Partners and Property
Part 3: Analysis
Part 4: Conclusion
Memorandum on  Landscaping


Bridge of Seeds
Chicago Native Seed Gardens Study

PART IV: Conclusions 

Chapter 12
Strategic Issues

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.

  1. analyze overall economic feasibility of the native seed garden concept*
  2. create relationships with lenders or grant organizations
  3. investigate economic development options
  4. market development*

Business and ecological management: identifying willing business managers and supplying them with the assistance they will need.

  1. create relationships between community, economic and conservation organizations*
  2. increase access to technical training
  3. make technical resources and information more accessible*
  4. create standards for the use of genetically appropriate native plant material*
  5. tap into existing business training programs
  6. measure results of pilot projects

Land: securing stable properties and identifying appropriate plant materials.

  1. identify interested communities*
  2. obtain legal assistance for property use or acquisition
  3. identify supply of starter seeds or plants

Action Items

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.

  1. recruit individuals interested in proposal*
  2. identify communities and gain their support
  3. analyze economic and ecological characteristics of test properties*
  4. produce a sample business plan based on a specific property
  5. generate interest amongst buyer(s)*
  6. create a network of information sources and consultants
  7. provide training in native plant propagation
  8. provide training in native seed harvesting and processing

For community groups. (as above, plus the following)

  1. recruit groups interested in proposal*
  2. identify suitable organizational structures
  3. define financial and legal requirements of members

Evaluation Process (see Chicago Native Seed Garden Study)

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.

  1. progress milestones
  2. number of projects completed
  3. goodwill
  4. financial returns
  5. quantity of seed and plant materials produced
  6. job creation
  7. job quality
  8. media response

Chapter 13 back to TOC page

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.

Economic Development

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 fluctuations.

Environmental Justice

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 empowerment.


  1. 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 proposal.

  2. Create native seed genotype and viability quality control programs based on a commercial certification. Require adherence to these standards from the beginning.

  3. 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.

  4. Provide capital or loans for a pilot project with the stipulation for evaluating and documenting the process as part of its funding requirements.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. Avoid the overuse of money to create these businesses. Technical knowledge and ecological savvy drive the current and projected markets.

  8. Make all programs or assistance responsive to local (community level) needs and make them as site specific as possible.

  9. 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.

  1. Create a separate, non-profit organization to coordinate and promote the idea of the native seed gardens concept in Chicago.
    1. high cost
    2. scope may be too narrow to sustain funding
    3. very long start-up time
    4. very flexible
    5. lacks financial resources

  2. Create a new, for-profit program as a subsidiary of an existing non-profit organization to assist new seed garden businesses.
    1. high cost
    2. greater risk for non-profit sponsor
    3. long start-up time
    4. moderate flexibility
    5. lacks financial resources

  3. Expand current government agency programs that match the goals of this proposal.
    1. e.g. University of Illinois at Chicago, Cooperative Extension Service's Urban Gardening Program or City of Chicago's Master Gardeners Program.
    2. low cost
    3. very experienced the horticulture field, very little experience with native seeds
    4. long start-up time
    5. moderate response time

  4. Create a industry group based association to implement this concept.
    1. moderate cost, but profit oriented
    2. moderate start-up time
    3. very flexible and responsive
    4. greater management challenges

  5. Create a local cooperative made up of the current native seed producers.
    1. low cost
    2. quick start-up
    3. very experienced, may not serve immediately needs of inner-city businesses
    4. flexible and very responsive

  6. Recruit several determined business managers and let these entrepreneurs grow.
    1. very low cost
    2. moderate start-up time
    3. lack of experience and resources
    4. 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?".


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