by Prairie Rivers of Iowa Watershed Coordinator David Stein
The newest project from the watershed team was the implementation of a native seed bank for the community to use. The premise was simple, Prairie Rivers of Iowa would provide free native seeds to local residents to use toward conservation, as long as they signed a contract promising to plant the seeds. It didn’t matter where people were located in Iowa, or how large of a piece of land they had, as long as they were interested in planting some new habitat, we would help them out. Through trial and error, we were able to secure several donations from seed companies and a $500 grant from the Walmart Community Foundation. At the peak of the program, we were able to offer participants seeds from over thirty species of native plants. When participants would come into the office, we would sit down with them to discuss their land, how sunny or shady it was, how wet or dry the soil was, what animals they wanted to attract, etc. We’d then pick out the right seeds for those conditions. The last bit of the process was probably the most difficult, this was waiting until the late spring and early summer to see how planting went, and to collect the final results.
To say that the program was an unexpected success would be an understatement. What started as a small and simple project exploded into something embraced by the community, both locally and statewide. Between October and April, we had fifty-five landowners (around fifty more than I was expecting) participate in the program! The majority were urban or suburban landowners from the Ames-Des Moines area looking to establish smaller native gardens. However, we had participants from all over the state, with some coming from as far away as Marion and Linn counties, with wildly varied lands. The seed that our participants picked up was used for a variety of purposes including erosion control, beautification, native edible herbs, water quality, and most importantly for our programs establishing and enhancing pollinator/wildlife habitat. After reviewing and calculating everyone’s withdrawal forms, the seed bank program was able to enhance and establish 31.29 acres of pollinator and wildlife habitat. Participants generously donated a combined $469.00 for future conservation projects and drove a combined 3704 miles to pick up their seeds.
The last piece of this project was to send out a post-planting survey to our participants. We will use these surveys to shape the seed bank programs in the future. So far we have received excellent feedback that we will use to make seed bank decisions moving forward. Additionally, in the surveys, several participants stated that they would like Prairie Rivers to provide conservation services moving forward. Thinking ahead to next year, we have several goals for the seed bank program including the doubling of seed species available, a garden and landscape design service, and a formal catalog of species and their habitat needs. All of these will be incorporated into a new program that we are launching this fall. So stay tuned!