Two years is but a blip in the life of a 156-year-old organization, but I like to think we’ve moved the needle more than a little since I was honored to join y’all as Executive Director in July of 2020.
I stepped into a team still actively reinventing ourselves in response to COVID. How could we continue as a gardening community, or even stay afloat financially, without in-person classes, gala, and state fair? And how could we meet the sudden increase in need for food security, health, community and gardening support?
Classes went online and participation went through the roof (tripled!) Even now as we segue back to some of our beloved in-person classes, we are committed to ongoing webinars to serve greater MN and beyond, and folx who for various reasons prefer the flexibility and accessibility of online learning. Education has also grown through increased traffic to our website and Resource Hub (doubling to over 65,000/month), and increased distribution of Northern Gardener magazine (to almost 18,000 in multiple states) and our free, bimonthly Northern Gardener e-newsletter (from 13,603 to over 22,000 readers).
Community programs were more important than ever during these tough times. In just two years:
- Minnesota Green redistributed over 150,000 plants and seed packets to over 500 community gardens and nonprofits
- Garden-in-a-Box doubled the number of site hosts from 51 to 104, bringing gardening education and experience to communities in multiple counties around the state
- MN SEED Project launched to educate and encourage seed saving and swapping
Finances were helped with stop-gap “PPP” government funding, generous donors, and savings we had wisely invested from Heirloom Circle bequests. Like most nonprofits and many families, we did lose money through the pandemic and only now are turning the corner back toward sustainability. We are grateful to have not only to have survived but actually increased services to communities in a time of need.
Membership has turned the corner after two years of decline (for MSHS and for membership organizations around the country). Our increased outreach to the hungry new generation of growers, plus a focus on service excellence for our treasured returning members, has yielded a 2-year increase from 8,669 to 9,302 members (with more to come at State Fair!)
The four categories above are the pillars of our 2021-2025 Strategic Plan. With the ongoing support of our donors and members, we are surpassing all of our ambitious benchmarks so far. But beyond the numbers, what it means is that we are fulfilling our mission to support and serve the northern gardening community, even more so in these years of immense challenge and need.
There’s a lot of numbers in this post because I believe in accountability to you, our members and supporters and co-conspirators in this bold venture of gardening in the north. But as we ease back into being together in person as well as these online innovations, I cherish the human connections we make through our shared love of gardening.
Thank you all for your support in so many ways during these past two years. I look forward to the next two years of building upon this solid foundation, and pledge to continue sharing back with you the good news and the challenges as we continue (to quote our vision statement) growing, together.
Rick Juliusson, the hort society's executive director, has been driving education, international development and nonprofit consulting projects around the globe. He loves growing food and flowers, and even worked as a farmer for many years, selling peonies, garlic and meat grown on his 5-acre Vancouver Island property.
To learn more, join a webinar or workshop...