‘Seed the Future’ campaign needs community support to meet $3M goal

Published 8:22 am Monday, June 12, 2017

On a warm Thursday evening, a group of people stood among the foliage at Fernwood Botanical Gardens and Nature Preserve looking at a weathered tool shed.

Cindy Ellis, board member for the nonprofit, who had guided the group to the spot, asked visitors to envision a brand new Education Center in the shed’s place.

As visitors peered through the trees, they pictured the proposed 5,000-square-foot building and the view of the St. Joseph River the facility could have.

The new Education Center is one of several features that will be supported by the “Seed the Future Legacy Campaign.” The capital campaign was announced in 2013 and officials are hoping to break ground on the projects this fall.

The garden and nature preserve tour Thursday was part of reception, where community members got an update on the campaign’s progress and heard a presentation on the building’s constructions from builder Craig Moore, of EC Moore.

Campaign chair Joanne Sims announced that the nonprofit has raised almost $2.5 million of its $3 million goal.

“We are not there yet but we have got to get there,” Sims said. “The progress is terrific. I think we have a lot of energy right now.”

Nonprofit leaders also announced Thursday that a “friend of Fernwood” and anonymous donor has also pledged a $250,000 challenge grant. Each donated dollar will be matched up to that amount. So far, almost $150,000 has been pledged.

“This challenge grant is a great boost to get us over the top,” Sims said.

While the numbers mean Fernwood is closing in on its campaign goal, the next few months will need critical support from the community to reach the finish line.

In addition to a view of the river, the new education center, projected to cost $1.85 million of the funds, will feature larger classrooms and two glass wings called flora and fauna. Those who visit will be able enroll in new programs in horticulture, botany and environmental sciences.

The proposed Education Center would replace the 35-year old facility that has since been outgrown by an increasing number of students.

Additionally, the new Education Center is designed to be more sustainable and will include a green roof and rain garden. The facility will also serve as a place to host events from educational receptions to weddings.

Blake Burgess, a Fernwood board member, said the nature preserve offers youth a hands on learning tool that encourages them to engage with the outside world.

“With so many kids becoming dependent on technology, a place like this gets kids outside and interested in science,” Burgess said.

Burgess can relate to this experience himself. As a former Ballard Elementary School student, Burgess often visited the garden with his classmates on field trips. When he was an adult, he said, he returned to the garden to hike the network of trails that webs across the garden’s 105 acres on the St. Joseph Riverfront in Buchanan Township.

The campaign proceeds will target three primary areas, including:

  Improvements to the visitor center and cafe and garden master plan, which will allow the nonprofit to continue to create sustainable gardens.

• Providing a way to strengthen cultural programing and the endowment so that recognized leaders can visit and share knowledge, while maintaing the ability to provide a natural science and education center to surrounding communities.

• A new education center.

Sims encouraged those who want to support the garden to give what they can.

“If every one of our 2,600 members gave us $10, guess what?” Sims said. “We would be there.”

Donations can be made by through the website at fernwoodbotanical.org or by calling the garden at (269) 695-6491. Checks can also be sent to 13988 Range Line Road, Niles, MI 49120.

Visit Fernwood:

WHERE: 13988 Range Line Road, Niles

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday