SEEDS sprouts change in northern Michigan
This month, I am delighted to shine a spotlight on one of the Michigan Environmental Council’s newest member organizations, the SEEDS Ecology & Education Centers. Based in Traverse City, SEEDS joined the Environmental Council team in September, and we are thrilled to welcome its unique voice.
Founded in 1999, SEEDS is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with a mission to build regenerative communities at the intersection of ecology, education, and design. Established by two ecological engineers and an architect who sought to design with nature and for people, the organization has evolved to focus on activities that regenerate habitat, mitigate carbon emissions, develop the green workforce, and educate future generations on the importance of sustainable practices and environmental stewardship.
Sarna Salzman, the founding executive director, has played a crucial role in guiding organizational growth while maintaining a steadfast focus on building place-based regenerative communities. This year, SEEDS has employed over 100 unique individuals. Sarna’s leadership has been instrumental in forging multi-sector, multi-disciplinary community relationships, leveraging federal funds for local priorities, and fostering collaboration between individuals and nature.
SEEDS executes its multifaceted work through three distinct programs: EcoCorps, EcoSchools, and EcoStrategies.
The EcoCorps program aims to develop a dynamic green-collar workforce in northern Michigan through skills training, professional development, and leadership. Crew members gain valuable paid work experience while contributing to the betterment of its local communities. Within the program, both crew leaders and members gain immersive exposure to various careers, including the restoration of public and private lands, the stewardship of ecologically sensitive landscapes, sustainable farming, and the implementation of nature-based infrastructure.
EcoCorps program extends seasonal employment opportunities to aspiring environmental professionals. Available for partnerships or hire, EcoCorps crews actively engage in collaborative fundraising efforts with public and nonprofit partners to bring project dreams to life. This year EcoCorps hosted two state-recognized apprentices, one in horticulture and one in carpentry. The scope of work includes landscaping; gardening; light construction; park land and shoreline restoration; invasive species removal; maintenance; and clean energy services.
SEEDS' EcoCorps operates across both upper and lower Michigan, with projects coordinated from its Headwaters and Historic Barns Park project areas in Traverse City.
The EcoSchools program focuses on educating and empowering northern Michigan’s next generations to become passionate stewards of the state’s land and resources. Prioritizing hands-on and outdoor activities, the program aims to foster leadership, life skills, and resilience among students. Since 2009, the program has hosted 21st Century Community Learning Centers, thanks to the invaluable support from the Michigan Department of Education. Through this grant program, SEEDS EcoSchool delivers free, out-of-school time for academic and cultural enrichment four days per week throughout the year to selected partner schools.
EcoSchool staff currently hosts after-school programs at 13 schools within six districts spanning northwest lower Michigan. During the 2022 to 2023 school year, the EcoSchools program served over 1,000 students and provided over 93,000 high-quality contact hours, exemplifying its commitment to providing accessible and impactful educational experiences that transcend traditional classroom boundaries.
SEEDS EcoStrategies encompasses a wide array of initiatives, from clean energy to composting. This dedicated team offers consulting and coaching services to individuals and institutions seeking to diminish its regional carbon footprints. Over the years, the EcoStrategies team has collaborated with more than 60 units of local government and over 600 other entities, aiding them in gaining a comprehensive understanding of its energy usage, transportation methods, carbon accounting, and waste and water management.
These specialists go beyond mere consultation, providing benchmarking services, training, action planning guidance, and thought leadership aimed at achieving a more favorable carbon balance and an enhanced quality of life for communities worldwide. It emphasizes the importance of accurate data, ensuring that clients have the knowledge it needs to gauge the outcomes of its actions accurately.
Where the ECOs meet
All three of these work tracks converge at the Historic Barns Park site in Traverse City. The SEEDS EcoLearning Center serves as a welcoming, family-friendly public space on a sprawling 56-acre parcel undergoing redevelopment. The park is transforming into a unique regional hub encompassing public recreation, community events, agriculture, horticulture, and environmental design. Owned by a municipal recreational authority, the management of the landscape and events is a collaborative effort involving three nonprofit partners: SEEDS, the Botanic Gardens at Historic Barns Park, and the Traverse City Community Garden.
This site serves as a vibrant manifestation of the SEEDS' mission. The EcoSchools program hosts field trips. EcoCorps work crews construct useful structures and tend to the gardens and habitats. EcoStrategies concepts come to life through exhibits, tours, and demonstrations. All this activity is nested within the historic agricultural space of the former State Hospital in the Grand Traverse Commons, which hosts many other enjoyable partners and greenspaces. This year, the EcoStrategies team opened a composting training and demonstration center that It are calling the Compost Petting Zoo where there are eight different backyard scale composting technologies on active display.
As SEEDS continues to shape the environmental landscape in Traverse City and beyond, its holistic approach to regenerative communities stands as a testament to the transformative power of education, collaboration, and sustainable practices. The integration of its diverse programs and initiatives underscores the importance of addressing environmental challenges with a people and place-based mindset.
The Environmental Council is privileged to have SEEDS as a member, adding a unique and invaluable voice to the collective efforts toward a greener and more sustainable future for all of Michigan.