By Jack Ahern
Growing season in Minnesota can go by in the blink of an eye, so gardeners in USDA Zones 3 and 4 must be armed with the best knowledge they have available to them. That is where the Minnesota State Horticultural Society (MSHS) comes in, as the resource for northern gardeners to have successful growing seasons each year. MSHS serves their members through educational programming, Northern Gardener magazine and other member benefits, but their work goes beyond just their member perks. In recent years, the organization has grown their efforts to give back and provide services to their local communities through charity programming.
Started in 1866, the Minnesota State Horticultural Society existed as an association of fruit growers looking to find the best practices in their cold climate. Now over 150 years later, MSHS operates for amateur and experienced gardeners alike with support and interest from professional and commercial groups. The organization’s membership is open to anyone with an interest in things that grow. Membership includes six issues of Northern Gardener, discounts at local and regional nurseries and garden centers, complimentary tickets to garden shows and more. Nevertheless, perhaps the best benefit of membership is the camaraderie of fellow gardeners.
Brenda Harvieux, Editorial and Marketing Coordinator for MSHS, says that the “northern gardeners” are unique, above all else they are “very pleasant and happy people.” The type of person drawn to MSHS is perhaps what allows them to do more than your typical member benefit organization. In addition the daily work of the organization, MSHS and its members believe in finding a balance through programs that allow them to be charitable to their larger community. They seek to give back through community programming, such as the Minnesota Green and Garden-in-a-Box programs.
Minnesota Green, which has been in operation for nearly 30 years, is one of the organization’s methods of promoting community greening and strengthening relationships by connecting plants and people. This program includes a plant donation network for public spaces, as well as networking opportunities and resources. This year alone, MSHS anticipates that the Minnesota Green program will benefit 80 different community gardens, encouraging neighborhoods to become greener, to grow their own food and to plant more pollinator and native Minnesota plants.
Garden-in-a-Box, another charitable program put on by MSHS, encourages young growers to develop a green thumb while helping their families and communities. The program provides free garden kits for growing vegetables, including a raised bed container, soil, fertilizer, plants, seeds and access to educational support on gardening and cooking. Harvieux explains, “Garden-in-a-Box is an opportunity to teach kids where their food comes from and to bring healthy eating habits into their homes.” The program has also created an increased appreciation for vegetables among the younger crowds; picky eaters are more willing to try vegetables when they grow them themselves!
Funding for these programs comes from a variety of sources other than the typical dues of membership organizations; the programs are funded through grants and donations from members, local communities, garden clubs, plant and horticultural societies and local businesses. Harvieux also acknowledges that membership fees can only do so much, making up about half of the organization’s budget. As the organization continues to expand its programming and community needs evolve, it will keep finding and leveraging other revenue sources to increase its impact.
Harvieux admits that there is some confusion with the Minnesota State Horticultural Society’s name, as it suggests that MSHS is a state funded and operated entity. This does not stop their efforts to evolve with the need to gain a new and younger audience. As their existing membership base grows older, MSHS continues to find new ways to engage younger gardeners. Charity programs serve as a way to engage new people in community involvement through gardening. The organization also puts on webinars so gardeners can find reputable answers to Minnesota specific gardening questions instead of just “googling it.” In this way, younger members of the organization become more actively involved with MSHS.
MSHS has a goal to balance selling memberships while assisting their community, which is a direct result of their engaged membership base, as Harrvieux says, “we could not do our work without our members and volunteers.” The organization does all it can to recognize those volunteers to make them feel that they are part of the MSHS family. Because, like plants, nonprofit organizations need the right support to take root and grow.
Brenda Harvieux has been a regular staff member at the Minnesota State Horticultural Society for ten years, she currently serves as the Editorial and Marketing Coordinator. She writes, aids in copy editing and designs ads for MSHS’ publication, Northern Gardener magazine; leads marketing efforts; and uses her graphic design skills to promote the organization. She graduated from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities with a double major in English and Studies in Cinema and Media Culture.
Jack Ahern is a Masters of Public Administration student focusing on nonprofit management at NC State University.