One year into our ambitious 5-year Strategic Plan, it’s time to see if we’re on course. It turns out we’re not—we’re much further up the road than we intended to be right now. Not a bad problem!
The four pillars below reflect our top priorities as we grow and pivot to address key concerns and inspirations of our members and community.
(1) EXPANDING EDUCATION: Education is in our roots. Our society started 156 years ago with a bunch of farmers teaching each other how to grow apples in the North. Soon they started publishing notes and resources to support each other. This year, we celebrate 150 years of continuous publication of what is now Northern Gardener® magazine, which grew 30% in 2021 to now reach over 13,000 avid readers (including a 400% expansion of newsstand distribution to support new friends in multiple states).
Our website, enhanced with the addition of a Resource Hub full of information and community links, almost doubled in 2021: from 31,587 to 60,820 monthly visits. Facebook followers grew by 38% to 6,457, and our e-newsletter is so popular it now goes out twice a month even in the winter to nearly 19,400 readers (40%). While we support more growers through these various media channels, we also continued to directly provide classes to almost 3,000 gardeners. Thankfully we could return to some in-person workshops (like our beloved wreath-making and our new seed collecting), while others continue online to reach gardeners throughout the northern region.
(2) INCREASING OUR IMPACT: If education is our roots, then community programs must be the fruit. Our Garden-in-a-Box program provided 9,932 children and families in food-insecure neighborhoods throughout Minnesota hands-on gardening experience (66% growth). Minnesota Green redistributed a record 72,203 plants to community gardens—three times our target. And our exciting new MN SEED Project engaged 536 people in seed saving, preserving and swapping—five times our target. This combination of education and community programming has kept MSHS at the cutting edge of serving our community in a year of such great need. Together, we are making meaningful impact on issues such as food security (60,000 pounds of food donated from MN Green gardens to local food banks), climate change (did you see our great educational display about bee lawns at State Fair?), and racial equity (for example, we provide culturally relevant seeds to the diverse populations in Garden-in-a-Box, and are translating webinars into multiple languages).
(3) STRENGTHENING MEMBERSHIP: Back to the roots metaphor, the core strength (so maybe the stalk?) of our society is our members. Together we are now almost 9,000 strong. We created a new Digital Membership level to reach out to the new generation of gardeners, where our future lies. We creatively continued traditions that bring us together as a community, such as the Spring Gala (with record number of attendees online), summer Garden Gathering, and adventurous seed-sorting volunteer days in windy outdoor shelters. We also brought in Ann, the world’s best member associate, to provide warm welcome and top-notch service to members who call, write or drop in.
(4) BUILDING CAPACITY: We reckon we’ll still have something to offer for another 156 years, which requires the replenishing nourishment of finances and people power (the sun and the rain, to complete our metaphor). Our member petition helped save our state funding, and generous donors increased contributions by 68% to a pre-pandemic level of $174,423. Our board grew to 11 strong members with a important range of skills and perspectives, and we developed a new committee structure to bring in more community members with passion and skills to share. Our incredibly hard-working (overworked?) and committed staff of just six professionals is augmented with valuable interns and volunteers, and our new executive director isn’t so new anymore, completing 1 ½ years of supporting all this growth.
For those of you who like numbers, that’s all below (and splattered above). But looking at the big picture, we set an ambitious 5-year course back in fall of 2020, and after just one year we are in many cases already approaching the 5-year goals (see our 2021 Impact Report). It’s not that we set the bar too low; it’s that we care so much. 9,000 members and 20,000 readers can’t be wrong—gardening is fun, important and core to our personal and collective health and happiness.
With that kind of commitment, how can we not succeed at our vision: growing, together!
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