Letter of Intent
Project Size: 
Large, >$1,000
Estimated Amount to be requested from the CSF: 
$88,000
Letter of Intent: 

Letter of Intent

Project Title: SER-UW Native Plant Nursery - Future Growth

 

Summary of Project Proposal:

Over the past two years, the SER-UW Native Plant Nursery has continued to provide a sustainable and immediate source of plant material, as well as the opportunity for students to gain valuable hands-on experience in horticulture. The Nursery has strengthened lasting relationships with UW and now supplies the majority of plant material used in ESRM courses. Collectively, we supplied over two thousand native plants to these courses in 2018 alone. The Nursery continues to provide resources for graduate student projects, many opportunities for volunteers, and valuable internship opportunities for undergraduate students throughout the year. All plants grown on campus are subsequently used in campus projects, reducing reliance on outside sources and contributing to the UW Sustainability Mission.
 

While working with community partners and UW organizations to secure long-term support, the Nursery seeks gap funding to continue our mission of horticultural education and the production of quality plant material for student projects. We seek funding for two Research Associate (RA) positions which would contribute jointly to improving nursery production tasks, the education program, and outreach. These positions would continue to enhance our programs while facilitating the transition of the Nursery to a permanently funded entity on campus.
 

In order to keep up with student interest, we wish to provide more internship opportunities and projects as components of these internships. The RA positions would direct the creation of a program where native seed could be sustainably harvested from the wild and grown on-site for use in restoration projects. A seed harvesting project will provide interns with an abundance of opportunities to learn new skills, such as field techniques and navigation, data collection, plant identification, and seed harvesting. There is also the possibility to form partnerships with local organizations with similar missions and foster a greater investment in the ecological restoration community of the region.
 

The RA positions would also be responsible for the design and implementation of a fern propagation and rhizome bed production program to fill critical gaps in plant sourcing needed for student restoration projects in Yesler Swamp and Union Bay Natural Area, as well as across campus. This would also provide interns and volunteers opportunities to learn a variety of different production methods and greatly reduce the need for outside sourcing of plant material, increasing the long-term sustainability of the Nursery.

 

Student Leadership and Involvement:

The SER-UW Nursery continues to be an entirely student-run organization, providing valuable experience for graduate students in project management and leadership, as well as many opportunities for interns and other undergraduate and graduate student volunteers. We have strengthened our relationship with the Carlson Center, a leadership and community service organization on campus, with 24 service learning volunteers providing 20 hours each per quarter since 2016. We continue to host weekly volunteer work parties throughout each quarter to provide experiential learning credit for students in ESRM classes and other programs. Since 2016, the Nursery has involved roughly 885 student volunteers, culminating in over 3,000 volunteer hours contributed by students across many majors and departments. Developing programs for seed collection, fern propagation, and rhizome beds will greatly increase the number of unique opportunities available for student volunteers and interns beyond the scope of our current offerings and allow us to keep up with student interest.

 

Education, Outreach, and Behavior Change:

The SER-UW Nursery continues to involve volunteers in every aspect of our work, conducting weekly work parties open to students. The Nursery also provides an ideal outdoor laboratory for ESRM 412, a course focused on native plant production and nursery management. Having these facilities on-campus limits the need for outside materials and spaces for UW-based coursework. Since 2016 the Nursery has hosted five public plant sales to provide an opportunity for members of the greater community to purchase sustainable, student-grown plant material. Sales and attendance of these plant sales have increased since the start of the program, expanding our community involvement and connections. Funds from the plant sale are reinvested directly into the Nursery to fund seed sources, volunteer opportunities, and necessary planting materials.
 

For the seed collection program to maximize its potential, it will require the involvement of a network of participants beyond the Nursery. This program will help to foster relationships with other native plant nurseries and related community organizations. Construction of fern propagation and rhizome beds will also allow us to exchange knowledge and collaborate with partner organizations.

 

Environmental Impact:

The SER-UW Nursery has facilitated the installation of planting projects throughout campus by providing high quality, local and affordable plant materials. Growing plants in-house has reduced the carbon emissions and other costs associated with plant acquisition. During our time of growth, we have been conscious of our footprint and are committed to remaining environmentally sustainable. In Winter quarter of 2018, a Community and Environmental Planning major and nursery intern conducted an abbreviated sustainability life cycle assessment for the Nursery to evaluate its successes and areas for improvement in terms of environmental impact. Fertilizer and pesticide use, recycling, and other practices were assessed in order to set goals for continuing to lessen our environmental impact as we continue to grow.

 

Looking forward, the development of a monitoring and seed collection program will help to close the loop between nursery production and restoration at UW. A seed collection program will enhance the overall sustainability of nursery operations by reducing reliance on outside seed sources and provide material that is more genetically appropriate for our region. The fern propagation and rhizome beds will also drastically reduce the need for off-site sourcing of necessary species, further cutting down on carbon emissions related to travel and shipping of plant materials.

 

Feasibility, Accountability, & Sustainability:

The SER-UW Nursery is dedicated to contributing the UW goals of sustainability and environmental accountability. Projects will continue to be overseen by two part-time managers and a faculty advisor. The Production Manager will secure plant contracts and will be primarily responsible for the day-to-day growing of materials, as well as initiating the installation of a fern propagation and rhizome bed systems. The Education and Outreach Manager will be primarily responsible for managing volunteers and will be the point person for interns. In addition, both managers will work together to write curriculum and protocols, as well as establish relationships to create a seed collection program.
 

Over the past year, the Nursery has made considerable strides in its ongoing push to become a permanent and self-sustaining entity at the University of Washington. Our partnership with the UW Botanic Gardens has opened up further opportunities for student leadership and education within the field of ecological restoration, as well as provided for the growing need for native plant materials on campus and within the Greater Seattle region. There is a strong desire within UWBG to continue to build upon this partnership by funding the Nursery in the long term. A grant award from the CSF will allow the Nursery to continue to contribute to UW’s Sustainability Mission while discussions of funding are finalized over the course of the next academic year.

 

 

Primary Contact:
Sarah Shank

sashank7@uw.edu

 

Secondary Contact:

Kyra Matin

kmatin1@uw.edu

Contact Information
Primary Contact First & Last Name: 
Sarah Shank
E-mail: 
sashank7@uw.edu
Full Proposal

This will display after the CSF committee has reviewed and approved your LOI, and after you have received the link to edit your application.

Executive Summary: 

Overview:

Since 2013, the Society for Ecological Restoration-UW Native Plant Nursery has provided a local and sustainable source of plant material for student ecological restoration projects in Union Bay Natural Area and Yesler Swamp, as well as many restoration sites on the University of Washington campus and throughout the Seattle community. Located at the Center for Urban Horticulture, it has been a much-needed hub for student involvement in the applications of horticulture and restoration beyond coursework. With the support of the CSF, we have been able improve our production practices and educational curriculum over the past few years. We aim to keep this momentum in both areas while focusing on our growth and financial sustainability.

The Nursery is committed to the goal of providing 100% of plants to students for coursework, as well as graduate student and other on-campus restoration projects. We provide plants for two classes: Restoration of North American Ecosystems (ESRM 473) and Senior Restoration Capstone (ESRM 462-464), and over the past two years we have strengthened our relationship with both. In 2016 we provided only 32% of species for ESRM 473, but were able to provide 100% in 2017 and 2018, and while in 2017 we were able to provide only 39% of plants to Capstone, in 2018 we provided 78%. Although we have made improvements, a significant number of species still need to be outsourced to other nurseries in the region, as Capstone requests comprise the majority of our orders.

In order to provide a greater percentage of plant material for student projects, the Nursery will implement production systems for two groups of species that are in high demand but require specific infrastructure for their growth: a fern propagation unit, and rhizome beds. Production systems for both of these groups will allow us to provide more genetically appropriate plants for restoration, increase biodiversity of student projects, and offset the carbon emissions associated with outsourcing plants. As there is high demand for these species, both from students and at past public plant sales, these production systems will increase our revenue and help us move toward greater financial sustainability.

Student interest in the Nursery has also grown substantially over the past few years in terms of both volunteer involvement and interest in internship opportunities. Implementing these production systems will greatly increase the scope of educational opportunities available through the Nursery. In tandem with this, we will increase our outreach efforts to the UW student body.

A graduate RA position will guide the infrastructure projects over the course of one year while continuing to manage the day-to-day production tasks at the Nursery. Assistance will be provided by an hourly part-time student position. Interns have contributed greatly to the growth of the nursery over the past few years, and their involvement will continue to be integral to the success of this project. Support will also be provided by a faculty advisor and UWBG staff.

 

Stakeholders: UW Botanic Gardens, Capstone, ESRM students, Carlson Center volunteers.

 

Estimated Total Cost: $64,340.70

 

 

Total amount requested from the CSF: 
$64 340
This funding request is a: 
Grant
Budget: 
Please see attached .csv for budget
ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal Cost
Project Completion Total: 
$64 340
Sustainability Impact: 
Living Systems and Biodiversity
Sustainability Challenge: 

Although the Nursery is able to produce much of the plant material needed for student projects, there is still a significant portion that requires outsourcing to nurseries throughout the Puget Sound region. Along with the inconvenience to students, who must coordinate their own transportation or use UCars, there is the environmental cost of carbon emissions associated with plant material pickup or delivery. The majority of native plant nurseries in the region are located outside of the immediate Seattle area and often require a 45 minute or greater drive to reach. Restoration planting projects are often done in multiple phases, and across multiple orders placed by student groups this travel and the associated carbon footprint adds up quickly.

Along with the issue of outsourcing material, there is a concern for genetic diversity as well as the responsible use of resources such as water and media. Unlike a farm or ornamental nursery, producing native plants for conservation and restoration requires the preservation of genetic diversity for many species. Although using salvaged plant material is sustainable from a financial and re-use perspective, it is often not environmentally responsible in terms of preserving this diversity. Along with this, in our past few years of salvaging plant material, we have seen that many of these species have lower survival rates, resulting in wasted resources of media, water, and fertilizer on plants that do not survive to the outplanting stage. Finally, salvaged material is only sporadically available, and even less so now that King County has ended its native plant salvage program.

Currently, the nursery relies completely on salvages for acquiring all fern species. Although we can continue to supplement our stock with salvaged material, a fern production system will provide a continuous source of material that has genetic variation appropriate for restoration projects and will be more responsible in terms of resource usage. In addition, although rhizome bed production relies on vegetative reproduction which can result in a loss of genetic diversity, we will research and implement best practices for re-incorporating new genetic material in rhizome bed production for each species. Propagation protocols will be developed for each species throughout the course of the project to ensure that we are making the most of our resources, and to have documentation that future Nursery Managers can consult and improve on.

Lastly, the provision of a greater variety of species from both the fern unit and rhizome beds will facilitate greater biodiversity in restored ecosystems. Often we are unable to fill requests for these species and are required to substitute greater numbers of fewer species, leading to a less diverse plant palette for student projects. Increasing the diversity of the plants we are able to provide will, in turn, create richer habitat not just in the Union Bay Natural Area and Yesler Swamp, but in student projects across campus.

 

Explain how the impacts will be measured: 

In order to measure the environmental impacts of this project, the RA and student assistant will be responsible for the collection of data on numbers of plants produced, which will allow us to measure how well we have met our target production goals. From this information, we will be able to measure the diversity of species supplied to student projects and assess an increase in biodiversity based on plant sale data.

A continued increase in the number of plants provided to student projects and classes will also be a measure of greater carbon offset for each restoration project. More plants produced directly on University grounds equates to a reduction in carbon emissions related to travel or shipping of material from around the state. As we continue to increase our production numbers both with this project and for species we already grow, the number of plants needing to be outsourced will decrease. We will be able to compare the percentage of outsourced plants from previous years with sales for this upcoming year and equate this to a reduction in our carbon footprint.

Although more difficult to quantify, there is also an educational component that is important to consider in terms of our environmental impact. During work parties, student volunteers are actively educated about the environmental costs associated with plant production. We discuss water usage, as well as sustainability problems with using peat as a growing media and the alternatives. They experience first hand that everything is recycled, from plastic containers to growing tags to the liquid fertilizer that we use.

This winter quarter, an intern created a survey designed to assess the educational impacts of work parties and what volunteers learned from the events in terms of plant production and sustainability, as well as areas that could be improved upon. We would like to use this survey regularly at work parties both as a way to improve them and to assess the value of the education we can provide about environmental issues.

 

Education & Outreach: 

Over the past three years, the nursery has hosted six bi-annual public plant sales open to the UW and broader Seattle community. Since the first public sale, interest in the event has grown substantially, with attendance increasing and definite interest from the broader Seattle community in supporting a student-run organization and purchasing student-grown plants. We will continue to host bi-annual public plant sales in the Spring and the Fall of each year and continue to develop our advertising in order to reach an even broader audience throughout the Seattle area. Our goal is to host two Communications interns who will focus on the further development of this programming. Under the guidance of the RA, two interns, one in Spring and one in Fall, will help to coordinate the public plant sales and refine our promotional materials by creating reusable templates for events, updating contact lists, and creating signage for use on the day of the event.

Although we have built a strong undergraduate and graduate student community invested in the Nursery, we deal with a challenging situation in terms of student involvement. As we are located at the Center for Urban Horticulture, a 20-minute walk or 10-minute bus ride from campus, we are not as visible to much of the student body outside of the departments and programs we are regularly in touch with. As we increase our offerings of volunteer activities by implementing this project, we will also increase our visibility on campus, encouraging a wider group of student participants. Our weekly volunteer work parties not only help students to be engaged through volunteering and learning skills, they are also social activities that allow students from diverse backgrounds and majors to come together and share ideas, and we hope to continue to expand this circle.

Along with involvement in the plant sales, Communications internships will also help to facilitate this outreach to the greater student body. Interns will be involved in the creation of permanent fliers to hang in UW facilities, as well as contributing to the development of the Nursery’s social media presence. All materials created for both the plant sales and student outreach will include the CSF logo.

As has been our commitment in the past, research conducted during the design and implementation of this project will be made available to the Greater Seattle horticultural community. Over the past few years, the Nursery has cultivated a relationship with Oxbow Farms and Conservation Center in Carnation, WA. The Nursery has modeled its production practices after those of Oxbow’s Native Plant Nursery, and we continue to use their technical advice and expertise. Both a fern propagation unit and rhizome beds are established infrastructure at Oxbow, and we will rely on their guidance to continue to set reasonable goals and refine these production systems in our nursery. As we continue to expand our own production records and protocols, we are committed to reciprocating this exchange of information with the horticulture and restoration community of our region.

As we think about our outreach within the UW community and beyond, there is potential for collaboration with other organizations that share our goals and values. The Olympic Natural Resource Center is developing an Ethnoforestry project that will encourage a stronger connection between the main UW campus and the ONRC’s home base on the Olympic Peninsula. This unique project would be focused on the development of an internship program to help bridge this gap, and there is an opportunity for the Nursery to act as a host for their interns on a part-time basis. This partnership, facilitated by the two project RAs, would provide ONRC interns with a stronger understanding of native plant production and nursery work, and allow Nursery interns to learn more about tribal uses of native plants, an important and often underrepresented aspect of horticulture in our region.

Student Involvement: 

From its beginning, the SER-UW Nursery has provided valuable leadership experience for graduate students pursuing careers in the fields of environmental horticulture and restoration. The Nursery continues to be an entirely student-run project, providing graduate students with the opportunity to gain skills in project management, volunteer coordination, and team leadership. Along with guiding specific projects to advance the Nursery, the RA also manages weekly operations such as administrative tasks, coordinating volunteer work parties, directing and educating interns and guiding their projects, and planning and implementing plant production schedules. A student assistant position will support the RA with administrative tasks, group work with interns, and weekly work parties.

The intern education curriculum has been built and strengthened through the support of past CSF grants and continues to provide a valuable experience for many undergraduate students. Since 2015, the Nursery has involved 26 interns from majors across many schools and departments, including Environmental Engineering, Biology, Communications, Environmental Studies, and Environmental Science and Resource Management (ESRM). Interns are interviewed by the RA each quarter and two candidates selected based on their potential to succeed in daily nursery tasks as well as their fit for quarterly projects that will benefit both the Nursery and their individual interests.

Along with the option to gain internship credit through ESRM 399 or their school’s option, the quarter provides them with the chance to not only develop knowledge of nursery management and plant production, but also valuable skills in teamwork, communication, and responsibility. Interns are expected to coordinate with the RA and each other to complete plant care tasks and there are many chances for active leadership roles in plant sale events and weekly work parties.

Our goal is to have a further eight (two per quarter and two in summer) undergraduate interns over the course of the next year who will be directly involved with fulfilling the goals of this project while gaining valuable experience related to their fields of study. We will host Communications interns whose focus will be the further development of our outreach program. Interns in the Plant Biology and ESRM programs can gain experience in research and data collection related to propagation protocols needed for fern and rhizomatous species and their success.

Through each academic quarter since 2015, the Nursery has hosted weekly work parties that provide a unique opportunity for students across many departments and disciplines to be involved in the process of native plant production and horticulture. In addition, these volunteers are an intrinsic part of our workforce, and the Nursery would be unable to function without their involvement. Our weekly volunteer work parties have continued to be highly successful. In 2016 the Nursery hosted students for a total of 750 volunteer hours, while in 2017, students contributed 900 volunteer hours. Looking forward, our goal is to reach and maintain a minimum of 1,000 volunteer hours over the next five years. Many of these students are fulfilling volunteer credit for classes such as ESRM 100, ENVIR 240, and ESRM 412, and it is more valuable for them to have plant production-related experience versus simple labor tasks such as weeding and pot washing. Having these production systems in place would provide volunteers with a much greater variety of production-related skills to learn, and allow us to keep up with growing interest in volunteering by providing new opportunities.

The Nursery has also continued to develop a relationship with the UW Carlson Center, an organization which provides opportunities for students to be involved with on-campus and community partners and to integrate academic coursework with volunteer activity. Multiple service learning positions are available each quarter through the nursery, with each position contributing 20 hours per quarter. Besides providing the structure for students to volunteer on a recurring basis, service learners are also able to help guide other students at work parties and are often trusted with more detail-oriented production tasks. Past service learners have also applied and been accepted as interns after realizing a continued interest in native plant production through their volunteer work. The Nursery will continue to partner with the Carlson Center and is committed to providing 15 service learning positions through the academic year.  

Timeline: 
TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
Design of rhizome beds and fern unit2 monthsAugust 2018
Construction of rhizome beds and fern unit2 monthsOctober 2018
Promotional materials for plant sales2 monthsNovember 2018 (for Fall plant sale in Mid-Nov.)
Student outreach fliers and social media protocols3 monthsMarch 2019
Draft propagation protocols for species4 monthsDecember 2018
Final propagation protocols for species5 monthsMay 2019
Year Tag: 
Amount Awarded: 
$25,301
Potential Funding Reductions: 
Running the Nursery is a highly involved process, from daily administrative tasks to planning events and production schedules months in advance to guiding multiple interns per quarter in weekly group work and individual projects. While in the past, two graduate students have typically shared this responsibility, it is more financially feasible to have one graduate RA and a part-time assistant to help. Nursery tasks and practices, in terms of administration, education, and production, come with a high learning curve, and turnover of students every one to two years is already a challenge in keeping our momentum. If there is a 10% cut in funding, there is the possibility for the part-time student assistant position to be filled by the right undergraduate student. However, it is ideal for a part-time assistant to be a graduate student who is able to commit to 10 hours weekly for at least three consecutive quarters. This allows the RA to have consistent help with guiding interns as well as financial and administrative tasks. If 20% less funding is available, along with the graduate student assistant position there could also be cuts made to the number of hours worked by the RA during summer quarter. Plant care tasks such as pest management and watering are intensive during the summer, and traditionally the Nursery has continued to hold volunteer work parties and host one to two interns through the quarter. If RA hours were cut by half it would not be possible for the Nursery to host these interns or as many events, but basic plant maintenance tasks would still be covered.
Project Longevity: 

Please see attached business plan.