Rhody Native: Propagation for Sustainable Landscapes

Final Report for LNE11-311

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2011: $122,333.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: Rhode Island
Project Leader:
Vanessa Venturini
URI Outreach Center
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Project Information

Summary:

This three-year project encouraged ornamental nursery growers to diversify their offerings and thereby improve the availability of genetically diverse native plants in the ornamental horticulture trade, while striving to increase net sales at participating nurseries and garden centers by $25,000.00. The Rhody Native™ Propagation Workshop Series was a two-year, learner-centric native plant propagation training program scheduled to mirror seasonal growing activities. In addition to facilitating the workshops, project coordinators assisted growers in adopting propagation techniques by donating propagation material, coordinating a pilot sales program with local growers and garden centers, and developing an innovative online tool to increase demand for native plants.  Sales records collected over the course of two years from the group of 21 local nursery growers and garden centers who received donations of plants, seed or cut stem materials for propagation totaled $22,733.47, with an average yearly sales figure of $1,367.80 per business.  While the performance target of increasing sales by $25.000.00 at each nursery was not met, likely due to the economic downturn and fewer growers than anticipated adopting the technique of seed propagation, a total of 61 native plant species are now available to the consumer, exceeding the target of 50.   Finally, the online, interactive RI Native Plant Guide, developed for this project and launched in June of 2014, will continue to connect consumers with Southern New England nurseries and garden centers that carry native plant species, effectively educating consumers and driving demand for the niche native plant market.

Introduction:

Interest in locally-sourced native plant material is growing as part of a paradigm shift towards low-maintenance, ecologically sound landscape management and habitat restoration.  Habitat fragmentation is a significant problem in Rhode Island, which is the second most developed state in the union.  Overall, 30% of land in RI has been developed and 20% of developed land is in residential use.  As a result of combined efforts to improve water quality and manage invasive species, there are significant habitat restoration programs in RI with a large group of practitioners who seek native plant material adapted to the local climate. Despite evidence of increasing consumer demand, Rhode Island’s plant production and sales industry, a $290 million annual enterprise (University of Vermont Extension 2009), supplies few native species cultivated from locally-sourced plant material.  The Rhody Native™ Propagation Workshop Series and plant sale programs encouraged growers to diversify their offerings to include local ecotypes of genetically diverse native plants, thereby increasing the availability of native plants and improving farm income.

Performance Target:

Performance Target: Over the course of three years, twenty nurseries will diversify their products available to consumers by each growing 2,500 plants, native to Rhode Island, for a total of 50,000 plants. All plants will have been collected from Rhode Island seed or stem cuttings and propagated locally. A total of 50 native plant species will be available to the consumer, including trees, shrubs, grasses and perennials. The average net increase in sales at each nursery will be $25,000.00.

Over the course of three years, 21 nurseries and garden centers diversified their products by growing plants, genetically native to Rhode Island, for a total of 18,000 plants. All plant material used for propagation were collected from Rhode Island seed or stem cuttings and propagated locally. At present a total of 60 native plant species are available to the consumer, including trees, shrubs, grasses and perennials. The average net increase in sales for the two years over which plants have been sold was $1,367.80 per business. Our initial assumption about the horticulture industry in Rhode Island was that a greater percentage of growers already incorporated propagation from seed into their business model. We have learned, over the course of the three years, that seed propagation represents a niche within the horticultural component of the state’s agricultural growers.  In addition, the economic downturn negatively affected the willingness of growers to take on the perceived risk of a new crop.  See the “grower adoption” section for an expanded discussion.  Two of the wholesale growers involved in the original pilot program, were particularly successful at growing the plant material, and because of their established reputations (one as a large wholesale seller and the other as a native plant nursery), had better than average sales success.  Average income from the sales of Rhody Native™ plants for the two growers in 2012 totaled $1,886.50, and in 2013 the average earned nearly doubled to $3,787.38.

 

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Dr. Marion Gold
  • Hope Leeson
  • Dr. Brian Maynard
  • Vanessa Venturini

Research

Materials and methods:

The coordinators developed a two-year pilot workshop series scheduled to mirror seasonal growing activities. The workshops included presentations from local horticultural experts, experienced growers, landscape designers/architects, the head of the state agricultural division, a university professor and a botanist, providing information on growing native plants for a commercial market.  This included discussions on design, identification, methods for sustainable seed collection, propagation methods, restoration needs, and marketing.  Each workshop series featured round table discussions on indoor seed production and native plant marketing and demand.

The initial training program was publicized through a variety of venues including the main project partners’ listserves and social networking sites and through the RI Department of Environmental Management, Division of Agriculture’s direct mailing to all licensed nurseries.  The Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut NOFA groups also assisted in publicizing the event to their members.

The coordinators designed the 2012 Rhody Native™ Propagation Workshop Series to reflect the requests from the 2011 pilot program participants.  The program built upon and reinforced the pilot in a way that would accommodate both new and returning participants.   The program allowed professionals to share best practices in native plant propagation to help increase the supply of native plants, but also delved into the subjects of designing with native plants, and marketing techniques to educate consumers and grow the demand concurrently.  In order to accommodate the growers’ schedules, the series ran over a shorter period in the fall; on weekends and evenings. The workshops were held in a variety of locations, including local nurseries to draw a wider audience. 

The growers who received donations of locally-sourced seed for propagation worked directly with the Botanist/Rhody Native™ Coordinator to determine which species they would propagate.  While we exceeded our target number of growers in attendance at the various workshops, we were slightly under-target for the number of growers adopting the practice.  This is in part due to a demonstrated lack of familiarity with seed propagation and the wish to conduct further research. However, growers that did propagate Rhody Native™ material, selected more species than anticipated, which resulted in a higher number of plants produced through the effort. 

The pilot sales program for Rhody Native™ plants (indicating they are sourced from wild collected seed of Rhode Island genotypes, and grown locally) was launched in August of 2011 with eight nurseries and garden centers located around Rhode Island. The partnership with Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association proved valuable in engaging nursery growers with an in-person approach rather than through mail or email. The coordinators tracked plant sales by seeking species-specific income data from each pilot garden center and grower at the end of the year.  The data was analyzed to determine which plant species were in higher demand to consumers and which growers and garden centers were most successful in growing and selling plant stock.  The coordinators conducted informal interviews with the growers to determine their challenges and successes, and where the demand for native plants originated (homeowners, versus restoration, versus landscape contractors).

In addition, the Rhode Island Native Plant Guide was developed as a consumer education tool and to drive the demand for native plant species.  This, online, searchable tool serves as a reference for the species considered native to Rhode Island and their attributes.  Individual species pages display photos and their attributes and availability at local nurseries. This database can be updated in real time to ensure continued accuracy of information.  The guide can be accessed here: http://web.uri.edu/rinativeplants

Research results and discussion:

Original Milestone:  20 growers will attend part one of the educational seminar offered in the fall of 2011. Growers will learn the economic and environmental benefits of growing native plants.  They will learn native plant identification and seed collection techniques in a field session.  A Fall training will teach seed cleaning, seed dormancy (stratification and scarification) and storage techniques. Each grower will receive a training manual and access to an online database and will generate a collection of native plant specimens for identification purposes.  Growers will be notified of their need to track native plant sales for later reporting.

Achieved January 2012 with small alterations to course schedule.  The pilot workshop series was well received from the green industry as well as other stakeholders who could generate a potential source of demand for native plants.  All presentations were followed by a discussion among panel members with questions from the audience.  In addition to generating enthusiasm about native plants, these workshops afforded the chance to gain more targeted feedback from all participants through written surveys collected during the workshops in order to make targeted improvements to the second workshop series.

Original Milestone: Growers and garden center professionals will receive donations of Rhody Native plants that have been contract grown in 2011 for sale in their garden centers. They will be given promotional displays and informational brochures for consumer education purposes, and asked to track sales in 2011 to inform future training programs and growers. All growers receiving donations will be informed of the upcoming training program and invited to attend.

Achieved December 2012.  The pilot sales program for Rhody Native™ plants (propagated in 2010/11 from wild collected seed of Rhode Island genotypes, and grown locally) was launched in August of 2011 with eight nurseries and garden centers located around Rhode Island.  Many of the participating garden centers over-wintered the plants for the busier 2012 spring and fall sales seasons. Garden centers had varied success in caring for, marketing and selling the plants.  Project coordinators evaluated the feedback from each nursery and encouraging the niche growers that have exhibited the most interest and effort, and thus success, to continue to propagate and sell Rhody Native™ plants.  Based upon grower feedback, the coordinators pursued contract-growing opportunities for local habitat restoration projects to generate additional demand for locally sourced native plant material at this time.  This outcome of the project has the potential to open discussion pathways between local growers and local landscape designers and engineers for production of plant material in the future, and provide a viable means for growers to enter the native plant production market.

Original Milestone:  The theme of the January, 2012 RINLA Winter Meeting will be native plants in the green industry. Rhody Native coordinators will present a one-hour seminar to 30 – 60 growers, on the Rhody Native program and the benefits of growing native plants. 

Achieved January 2012.

Original Milestone: 100 growers from Rhode Island and the surrounding communities receive notice in May of 2012, regarding the 2nd training seminar offered in August 2012, with registration details and seminar outline.

Nursery and green industry professionals were notified of the 2012 Rhody Native Propagation Workshop Series in August and September 2012.  Notices were sent via the RI Nursery and Landscaping Association, URI Outreach Center and RI Natural History Survey listservs, Northeast Organic Farming Association and Ecological Landscape Association email lists, social networking and direct mailing through the RI Department of Environmental Management Nursery Certification Program.

Original Milestone: 15 separate growers will attend the August, 2012 educational seminar. Program contents are updated based on grower comments. 

The coordinators designed the 2012 Rhody Native™ Propagation Workshop Series to reflect the requests from the 2011 pilot program participants.  The program built upon and reinforced the pilot in a way that would accommodate both new and returning participants.   The program allowed professionals to share best practices in native plant propagation to help increase the supply of native plants, but also delved into the subjects of designing with native plants, and marketing techniques to educate consumers and grow the demand concurrently.  In order to accommodate the growers’ schedules, the series ran over a shorter time period in the fall; on weekends and evenings. The workshops were held in a variety of locations, including local nurseries to draw a wider audience.  31 growers attended the October/November 2012 program, which was scheduled in the fall to accommodate growers’ schedules. 

Original Milestone: 10 trained growers who indicate a willingness to grow Rhody Native plants will receive site visits from program coordinators in the fall of 2012, with similar assistance provided to that listed above. 

5 commercial growers and 1 non-profit native plant organization received seed donations in early 2012.  Each grower received consultation with the botanist and received species-specific information on propagation techniques.  Outreach to growers continued regarding the availability of seed donations for propagation. 

Original Milestone:  The 10 growers from the original training will fill out a survey in October 2012 describing the effect of the program on net farm income over the first year of growing. 

Surveys were conducted in the fall of 2012 to garner feedback on net farm income over the first year of growing along with qualitative feedback on the propagation process and perceived market for native plants.

Original Milestone:  10 growers will begin propagating and cultivating 2,500 locally collected native plants in the fall of 2012 – winter 2013.

18 growers and garden centers combined, propagated and cultivated 60 species of Rhode Island ecotypic plant material in 2013. 11 of the businesses were garden centers, located in Rhode Island (8) and Massachusetts (3), 4 were commercial growers selling plants at wholesale (2 also sell at retail), and 3 were non-profit organizations with a native plant focus.

Original Milestone:  The same 10-15 growers attend part two of the educational seminar offered in February 2013. Growers will learn native plant marketing tips and local sources of demand, seed stratification and scarification methods, winter cutting propagation, greenhouse and seed bed culture.

In place of two separate seminars, a complete workshop series was held in October/November 2012 to accommodate grower schedules.  This was attended by 31 growers.  From 2012-2013, the Rhody Native Propagation Workshop Series successfully engaged over 125 stakeholders crucial to the development of a local native plant industry in the future.  While the workshop series was designed for farmers, the fact that many of the workshops were open to the public and green industry professionals was instrumental in helping to educate consumers and build demand for locally sourced, locally grown native plants.  Participating green industry professionals included nursery and garden center employees, landscape designers and architects, landscape contracting firms, gardeners and estate managers, and nonprofits involved in native plant propagation.  Other end-users of locally sourced native plants included government agencies, planners, private consulting and engineering firms and nonprofits involved in habitat restoration, as well as horticulturists, gardeners and homeowners managing public and private gardens.  The large number of instructors participating in the workshops provided a solid basis of expertise that can be tapped in the future as growers adopt new practices.  This early buy-in with the project by a variety of stakeholders will hopefully be instrumental in developing a market for Rhody Native™ plants grown by the participating growers.

Original Milestone: 20 growers will fill out a survey in November 2013 describing the effect of the program on net farm income over the first year of growing.

18 total growers were surveyed in 2013 for their sales information to garner net farm income as reflected in this report.  This is in part due to a demonstrated lack of familiarity with seed propagation and the wish to conduct further research. However, growers that did propagate Rhody Native™ material, selected more species than anticipated, which resulted in a higher number of plants produced through the effort. 

Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

Over the course of developing the training seminar, with input from growers, University professors and landscape designers, the first training program held in 2011 evolved into a five-workshop series which mirrored the propagation practices for a typical growing season.  The opening session of the 2012 seminar series included a local landscape designer who shared her experience working with clients and designing with natives and discussed which species she’d like to see available in the nursery trade.  Two growers gave a case study of her nursery and its relation to the local native plant industry.  About 15 growers, green industry and environmental professionals attended the Field ID and Seed Collection workshop held at The Nature Conservancy’s Francis C. Carter Preserve in Charlestown, RI.  Each participant practiced native plant collection methods, as many species were ready for harvest.

The Indoor Seed Propagation workshop was held at a nursery and taught by a seed company manager, who explained his methods for seed cleaning.  A URI Horticulture Professor taught about different types of seed dormancy and methods for treating seed accordingly, and gave hands-on demonstrations of seed cleaning techniques.  The grower at Hoogendorn Nursery spoke about his experience propagating native plants in outdoor seed beds and also provided a model of his seed bed methods. During the “Designing with Natives” workshop a landscape architect and a landscape designer shared their insights into the local native plant industry, with grower-centric information such as desired species and the potential sources of demand from both the residential design and regulatory/habitat restoration perspectives.  The presenters pointed out challenges in the design world and provided scientific and practical reasoning to incorporate native plants in the landscape. The 2012 Field ID and Seed Collection workshop held at The Nature Conservancy’s Francis C. Carter Preserve in Charlestown, RI led by the RINHS Botanist.  Each participant practiced seed collection methods, as many species were ready for harvest.

During the Propagation Methods workshop held at Clark Farms in South Kingstown, RI, growers learned the complete propagation process in a visually appealing format from three growers and two project coordinators.  About 21 growers and 15 green industry professionals attended this workshop, which included seed cleaning, storage, and stratification, stem cuttings, growing mediums, and lessons learned from local nursery growers.  A URI Horticulture Professor and the Rhody Native™ Program Coordinator gave hands-on demonstrations of seed cleaning techniques and discussed methods for the preparation of seed for germination such as seed stratification and scarification.  A local grower gave a demonstration of stem cutting techniques.  The owner of Van Berkum Nurseries, a wholesale nursery in New Hampshire, specializing in native seed propagation, as well as a local grower who had participated in the pilot program and successfully grown Rhody Native™ seed in 2011/12, discussed their techniques for propagation and marketing natives. An increased number of growers were attracted to the program over that of the equivalent offered during the pilot series, due to the location and networking opportunities afforded at Clark Farms.

 The final workshop was held in November 2012 on Marketing Native Plants. This workshop drew about 15 growers, homeowners and green industry professionals. Lower than expected attendance was likely due to the recent hurricane and inclement weather on the night of the presentation. In addition to presentations by two speakers on the topic of marketing native plants to consumers, presentations were given by representatives from local agriculture support agencies.  The first invited speaker presented as a co-owner of a large wholesale nursery that developed its own national native plant branding campaign and the owner of a small garden center.  He explained the most successful methods for point of sale marketing, which often includes placing a focus on the environmental benefits of native plants.  The second speaker was the executive director of an educational nonprofit/native plant nursery that provided a case study for the intersection of education and marketing that made their business viable.

In terms of web content, an online tool, known as the Rhode Island Native Plant Guide, was developed to connect consumers with producers of native plants and clarify for both groups, which species are native to Rhode Island. The Guide is poised to have an impact that far outlives the terms of this grant.  The guide was designed as a consumer education tool intending to encourage demand for native plant species.  The Guide is an online, searchable tool that lists the species considered native to Rhode Island along with photos and their attributes and characteristics.  Nurseries and garden centers who register with the site can enter their plant stock information to the site in real time, allowing the tool to remain accurate and to connect users to the businesses that carry the native plant species they are seeking. In addition, it will identify gaps in locally available native plant material for growers.

Production of this tool, while supported by the SARE grant, also involved in-kind donations of time from undergraduates for plant research, and expertise from outside consultants to provide information on the medicinal, edible, and food source value to birds provided by each of the native plants listed, and additional University staff people for programming, final edits and promotion of the guide.  Over 15 local growers have added their plant availability information to the guide as of May, 2014, with promotion of the guide ongoing.  

Video and tape recordings of the first and last workshops held in 2012, have the potential to be used as a guide in future efforts, and will reach a much broader audience than those who were present on the day of the events. Social media and web sites were utilized to promote viewing of the videos.

No milestones

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

Two of the wholesale growers involved in the original pilot program, were particularly successful in growing the plant material, and because of their established reputations (one as a large wholesale seller and the other as a native plant nursery), had better than average sales success.  Average income from the sales of Rhody Native™ plants for the two growers in 2012 totaled $1,886.50, and in 2013 the average earned nearly doubled to $3,787.38.   The native plant nursery in this example successfully generated $2229.85 in net farm income over the previous year’s sales.  This nursery had an established reputation as a native plant specialty nursery among designers, landscape contractors and the general public prior to the initiation of this grant, and became an early adopter of the propagation methods and advocate of the Rhody Native™ brand.  Their propagator attended the Rhody Native™ workshop series in 2011 and 2012, and excelled at propagating a diversity of native species from seed.  This enabled the nursery to propagate and sell significantly more local ecotype native species than other garden center and nurseries.  However, this garden center does not foresee its business model shifting toward that of a wholesale producer of native plants.

Seven (including Rhody Native) organizations have taken on the commitment of growing out trees and shrubs, which require 3 to 5 years of investment before they reach a marketable size. There are a total of 1494 trees and shrubs in stock at Rhode Island nurseries and garden centers as of December 2013.   This plant material will be available in the coming years as the plants mature to a saleable size, further increasing the net farm income.

Another success story comes in the form of the community of ecological restoration practitioners seeking out sources of ecotypic native plant material.  The City of Providence, Rhode Island, partnering with federal agencies and local non-profit environmental organizations, coordinated a restoration effort along the shorelines of two of the ponds within Roger Williams Park. The City, working with Rhody Native™, contracted 4 growers to provide over 3,500 genetically local native plants to be installed as buffer restoration to improvewater quality.  Additionally, several smaller restorations occurring in 2013, through a combination of federal and state funds, created demand for local ecotypes of native plant material, totaling sales of an additional 304 plants. The genetically native and genetically diverse plant material being offered through the Rhody Native™ initiative is preferred for habitat restoration projects and thus represents a – potential growth area for the production of native plant material. 

Conversations with state and federal agencies who oversee and encourage habitat restoration, and support creating wildlife habitat buffers and corridors, see greater demand in the future for native plant seed (grasses etc.) to rebuild salt marsh habitat being lost due to sea level rise, and to establish nurse crops beneath plantings of native trees and shrubs. This interest represents a new direction for the initiative and one which may prove beneficial to small food producers and growers in the agricultural sector of the industry.

Finally, through this grant, the Rhody Native Initiative was able to find its niche as a producer of genetically local native plant material. In an effort to continue to make local ecotypes of native plants available to consumers, 2014 will represent the first year the Initiative will be actively growing plants for sale.  An additional intended outcome of the decision to become a propagator, will be the  data collected from sales and production figures, which could be incorporated into a market analysis to be shared with the broader horticultural community.  A detailed market analysis fousing on actual demand for, and sales of, genetically native plants in Rhode Island is needed to take the next steps in creating a viable business model for growers. The data collected and shared with local growers will be an important step in encouraging many of the growers who have been hesitant to take the risk of diversifying their stock and are seeking adequate consumer data. By growing plant material for sale as seedlings (starts), the initiative will take the first step towards providing a better fit for the business models of local nurseries and garden centers. Over the course of this grant period, we have learned that it is more common for  businesses to purchase small plants and pot them up for retail sales, than to propagate them from seed. The new model will provide garden centers with a wider variety of sources of native plant material at different points during the growing season, allowing them to meet their customer demand for native plants without having to purchase from out of state nurseries. In addition, the needs of landscape contractors and habitat restoration practitioners for small plant material for their large scale plantings will be met through the production of genetically native plants through the Rhody Native™ initiative. Rhody Native™ is an initiative of the Rhode Island Natural History Survey, whose mission includes education and monitoring of the diversity of species in Rhode Island.  A long term goal for Rhody Native™ is to facilitate the ability of Rhode Island’s growers to be key players in creating sustainable and genetically diverse landscapes in Rhode Island and southern New England.

Economic Analysis

Two of the wholesale growers involved in the original pilot program, were particularly successful in growing the plant material, and because of their established reputations (one as a large wholesale seller and the other as a native plant nursery), had better than average sales success.  Average income from the sales of Rhody Native™ plants for the two growers in 2012 totaled $1,886.50, and in 2013 the average earned nearly doubled to $3,787.38.   The native plant nursery in this example successfully generated $2229.85 in net farm income over the previous year’s sales.  This nursery had an established reputation as a native plant specialty nursery among designers, landscape contractors and the general public prior to the initiation of this grant, and became an early adopter of the propagation methods and advocate of the Rhody Native™ brand.  Their propagator attended the Rhody Native™ workshop series in 2011 and 2012, and excelled at propagating a diversity of native species from seed.  This enabled the nursery to propagate and sell significantly more local ecotype native species than other garden center and nurseries.  However, this garden center does not foresee its business model shifting toward that of a wholesale producer of native plants.

 

Farmer Adoption

In terms of feedback to the workshop series, grower response was positive.  One farmer noted “This was incredibly useful – from the array of experts to the documentation.” Another grower reflected that, “This is a great opportunity for farmers to connect with naturalists.  It seems like we would be more interwoven given the ideals behind growing organic food and studying/ conserving/ restoring nature, but there is a surprising disconnect between the two communities.  I’m a little of both, & see that a lot of good could come from that connection.”  This comment holds potential for continued dialogue between stakeholders who share a common goal, but have a long history of thinking that their goals are at odds with each other.

We did not reach the milestone of an average net sales increase of $25,000 at each nursery.  Our initial assumption about the horticulture industry in Rhode Island was that a greater percentage of growers incorporated propagation from seed into their business model. We have learned, over the course of the three years that seed propagation represents a niche within the horticultural component of the state’s agricultural growers.  As one goal of the initiative is to produce genetically diverse plant material, this gap in production represents an imbalance for getting plants to market.  Additionally, as many garden centers cater to customers who purchase mature plant material, several have chosen to grow out their plant material to mature sizes, and thus have not reflected sales of these plants in their reporting.  Several of the growers are growing woody plant material, which takes 3-7 years to reach a saleable size, and so also are not contributing at this point to overall sales figures. 

Another challenge has been the timing of sales and the bloom time and availability of plant material. While many of the native species selected for collection early on in the program are most aesthetically pleasing in late summer or fall, the busiest retail season is spring.  Another facet to this is that the business model of the primary wholesale grower involved is oriented to selling his product early in the season. In reviewing sales with one of the largest garden centers, it was revealed that the preference for their business is to purchase plants from wholesale growers throughout the season based on customer demand.

One of the unanticipated results of this project came in early 2012, through the formation of a “Growers’ Committee” under the RI Nursery and Landscape Association.   This committee will function as a means of communication among major players in the local growing community to address such topics as the Rhody Native™ initiative.  Theoretically, the committee will provide a forum in which growers who participated in the series of workshops, can share techniques and the intent of the program with the growers who were not present.  This type of facilitated cooperation within the industry has not occurred in many years, and will be collectively critical for growers as they diversify their businesses though the adoption of new practices.

A critical negative impact to the program has been the economic downturn on Rhode Island’s nursery industry.  At least four local nurseries who may have been involved in the program closed or significantly reduced their businesses since 2011. Additionally, the economic climate has reduced the willingness of many growers to devote space to untested species. While the intent of the program was to offer the opportunity for business diversification, business owners actions reflect a conservative approach in relying on growing practices with which they have experience, and production of staple products  that consumers are familiar with and are proven to sell.   Another challenge for growers came in the form of impatiens downy mildew Plasmopara obduscens, in that this pathogen significantly reduced income from a staple crop, thus reducing the willingness of certain growers to take the perceived risk of growing natives.  One of the difficulties that this project has faced has been a means of demonstrating demand for the production of a highly local product for a local market.   The value of a local product in the horticulture trade presents a different marketing strategy for an industry whose existing market structure has been for Rhode Island’s growers focus on selling plant material entirely, or in part, to out of state customers. 

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

Conversations with state and federal agencies who oversee and encourage habitat restoration in support creating wildlife habitat buffers and corridors, see greater demand in the future for native plant seed (grasses etc.) to establish beneath plantings of native trees and shrubs. This interest represents a new direction for the Rhody Native initiative and one which may prove beneficial to small food producers and growers in the agricultural sector of the industry.

Another topic of additional study would be a market analysis of the actual demand for native plants and sales of native plants.  If the growers perceive consumer need from landscape contractors, designers, habitat restoration practitioners and home gardeners for native plants, they would be more likely to devote the space, time and training of staff to add more species to their stock. Finally, further education and consumer behavior change is needed to drive demand for native plant species from all of the stakeholders listed above to reach a full paradigm shift and bring native plants from a niche market to a viable crop from the producer standpoint.  

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.