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Great Lakes Ecosystems
Begin Hierarchical Links EPA Home > Great Lakes Ecosystems >End Hierarchical LinksGreen Landscaping > Bridge of Seeds > About The Report
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

Acknowledgements back page top

We wish to thank our friends Laurel Ross, Northern Illinois Field Representative, The Nature Conservancy; and especially Karen Holland, Environmental Protection Specialist, Great Lakes National Program Office, U.S. EPA for their ideas, reviews and inspiration for this study.

Also thank you to the many people that provided insights and information that form the core of this report: Brian Anderson, Jim Anderson, Steve Apfelbaum, Patricia Armstrong, Michaelene Brown, Jennifer Browning Skosey, Vernon Bryant, Floyd Butler, Steve Cannon, Janet Chen, Larry Creermur, Traci Darin, Neil Diboll, Kathy Dickhut, Mary Dunham, Ed Gabriel, Patti Gallagher, Fran Gamwell, Nancy Gillian, Paul Ginger, Kevin Green, Toni Griffin, Carol Hall, Bill Howard, Mitchell Isoe, Cheryl Johnson, Kevin Kawula, Nancy Klehm, Dan Lawson, Bob LeFevre, Kerri Leigh, Annette Lingleo, Jim Louthen, Dennis Lubbs, Mike Machalec, Mary Martin, Sally McCabe, John McDonough, Lindsey McGee, Harriet Meek, Andy Neil, Steve Packard, Paul Pfeiffer, Diane Reckless, Tom Robertson, Jean Sellar, Conner Shaw, Peter Skosey, Dan Sparks, Camille Stauber, Jo Strang, Jerry Sullivan, Karen Swoiskin, Elizabeth Tyler, Dan Underwood, Tom Vanderpoel, Mary Wells, Nancy Wise, Spruiell White, Ron Wolford, and Patti Wolter.

Creditsback page top

This study was written by Rick Gabriel, A.I.A. with assistance from Mary Ellen Roberts. This publication was funded and published by the Nature Conservancy, Illinois Field Office. Views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The Nature Conservancy. Mention of trade names, commercial products or companies does not imply endorsement. For copies of this study please contact:

The Nature Conservancy
Illinois Field Office
79 West Monroe Street
Chicago IL 60603
Telephone: (312) 346-8166

Preface back page top

A bold idea has been presented to Chicago's conservation community: to create native seed gardens on vacant, inner-city land for profit. This idea was generated by Karen Holland of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Great Lakes National Program Office as part of her graduate research project at Northeastern Illinois University. The Illinois Field Office of The Nature Conservancy was immediately interested in pursuing this idea due to the extreme need for native seeds in the numerous ecological restoration projects it sponsors. The gardens' direct connection to the preservation of biodiversity through active management and restoration fits well with the TNC mission, "to preserve plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive". Yet many people asked, "Why would The Nature Conservancy be interested in for-profit businesses, economic development, and environmental justice issues? Don't they just buy land?"

As many people are discovering, buying land and sealing it off from development does not go far enough in protecting an ecosystem's health. Many preserves are simply too small or too isolated to survive on their own; they have become islands in a sea of destruction. Large scale ecosystem management has emerged as a means for protecting far larger areas by integrating human activities into the preservation and restoration of natural systems. This requires an understanding of how the human systems that make up our society are integrated with natural systems. Embracing the idea that people are an integral part of nature has lead to innovative programs in education and economics and broadened the concept of diversity to include cultural issues. By addressing the human dimension of conservation issues The Nature Conservancy has opened the conservation movement to thousands of people and gained greater support in the process. The proposal to create native seed gardens for profit on vacant, inner-city land attempts to bridge the gaps between these issues. The primary goals of this study are to answer the questions: Is this a workable project for:

  1. Increasing the native seed supply and enhancing biodiversity?
  2. Providing outreach and educational opportunities?
  3. Generating economic development and addressing environmental justice issues?

Through the process of answering these questions several action items were accomplished:

  1. interest was generated among potential partners who may commit support for the project;
  2. a framework was created for organizations to access, produce and review the proposal;
  3. an action plan for initiating the project was produced;
  4. the existing native seeds market was analyzed and/or opportunities for industry-wide economic development were explored;
  5. a study was produced that can be the foundation for future fund raising proposals.

Study Parameters back page top

Local information sources were used as much as possible since the concept for this study is to analyze the creation of local native seed businesses and since nature functions as a collection of unique local communities. The areas under study are vacant lands within the City of Chicago plus current native plant and seed nurseries located outside the city limits. This report was written for an audience that includes: The Nature Conservancy (TNC) Illinois Field Office staff and board members; United States Environmental Protection Agency, Great Lakes National Program Office; member organizations of the CitySpace Program; and potential sponsors and participants of the proposed project including conservation groups, economic development organizations and community groups. 

This document focuses more on analysis and research than solutions to the specific problems of creating these businesses. Defining and documenting the ecological and economic questions this concept generates is necessary before any major initiative is begun. Though much of the ecological and economic information may seem simplistic or repetitive, this is intentional. Many conservation groups lack knowledge about basic economic concepts and economic development and community organizations lack a basic understanding of biodiversity so simply explanations on both sides are needed. While an action plan is included to help lay the groundwork to initiate any future projects, most solutions are left up to future organizers to discover while working in the context of specific communities and sites. This document can also be used as a brief seed resource directory by local restoration volunteers.

The content of the study was prioritized to match the general policy goals of TNC Illinois Field Office as follows: ecological feasibility; analysis of educational opportunities; analysis of economic feasibility and markets; analysis of community economic development benefits; analysis of environmental justice issues; verification of seed supply shortage; action plan; identification of potential locations for the gardens; descriptions of a range of models for future projects; a bibliography for use in restoration programs; identification of a managing organization(s) or framework for any future native seed garden programs.

It was assumed that TNC would not be the managing organization for any ongoing projects or programs, but through its current programs would encourage and support the formation of businesses that enhance biodiversity. Analysis of sustainable communities concepts and detailed economic development strategies were not within the scope of this study. This study was conducted with ongoing involvement between the sponsoring organizations and numerous members of Chicago's environmental, community and economic development groups to begin the dialogue between all the diverse groups that need to be involved in creating this new industry segment. The author's conclusions are based on a loose consensus between these groups and individuals.


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