7 Best Garden Nonprofit Organizations to Support This Year on Earth Day

Steele Marcoux
·7 min read
Photo credit: ANNIE SCHLECHTER
Photo credit: ANNIE SCHLECHTER

Call it a biophilia boom: this year’s top interior design trends, from the growing movement of decorating with houseplants to the surge of green rooms (and kitchens!) trending on our Instagram feeds, prove that nature is having a moment—especially at home. Perhaps this was to be expected. After all, the coronavirus pandemic along with other difficult events and circumstances of the past year have reminded us of nature’s soul-soothing power. This year, we’re celebrating Earth Day by highlighting seven of our editors’ favorite garden nonprofit organizations, from those that support “Learning Gardens” in schools or facilitate garden and landscaping curricula in prisons to nonprofits that seek to protect global biodiversity via seed exchange and tree planting.

Seed Savers Exchange

As the country’s largest nongovernmental seed exchange, Seed Savers Exchange aims to conserve and promote America’s diverse food crop heritage by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants. Its mission is three-fold: to conserve heirloom plant varieties via the collection and distribution of seeds; to educate current a future gardeners and farmers on the practice of seed saving; and to connect a community of plant enthusiasts via the stories exchanged along with the seeds.

Co-founded in 1975 by Diane Ott Whealy with heirloom seeds for tomato and flower varieties brought to Iowa by her Bavarian grandparents in the 1870s, Seed Savers Exchange organization collects and shares heirloom seeds through an exchange that’s open to members and non-members alike. These seeds are stored and regenerated at its 890-acre Heritage Farm headquarters in Iowa, then distributed via its catalogue and website.

This collection of rare, diverse seeds ensures Seed Savers can offer varieties of crops adapted to different climate conditions and resistant to certain diseases—protecting our food supply through seed diversity. You can support this organization here by visiting its headquarters, purchasing seeds, donating directly, joining as a member, and sharing seeds with other gardeners.

Photo credit: Phil Borges
Photo credit: Phil Borges

New York Restoration Project

It started with one woman’s outrage over litter in her city. That woman was actor Bette Midler, the city was New York, and her trash removal project has since blossomed into a city-wide nonprofit conservancy that coordinates funds and efforts between the private sector and public agencies to bring nature back into all five boroughs of the city.

Since its founding by Midler in 1995, New York Restoration Project has planted trees, renovated gardens, restored parks, and transformed open spaces throughout the city—all with the goal of creating a healthier, greener environment for those who live in the most densely populated neighborhoods.

Today, you can support NYRP by: donating to its Seeding the City program which seeks to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to fresh, healthy food; sponsoring a tree that will be planted in Manhattan’s Highbridge Park; volunteering with NYRP’s Forest Crew which works on forest stewardship and restoration of Highbridge Park; or adopting one of NYRPs 52 community gardens.

Photo credit: Justin Sullivan - Getty Images
Photo credit: Justin Sullivan - Getty Images

Insight Garden Program

This California-based organization teaches gardening and other nature-engagement coursework in prisons so that incarcerated people can reconnect to self, community, and the natural world. By facilitating innovative curricula combined with vocational gardening and landscaping training, Insight Garden Program tends to both the “inner” and “outer” gardener with classes that focus on meditation, emotional process work, and ecotherapy along with those that focus on the basics of organic gardening, human/ecological systems and useful work and life skills.

And IGP is achieving outstanding results in terms of reducing recidivism. According to its website, it’s one of the only evidence-based rehabilitation programs in California. “A 2011 recidivism study of 117 IGP participants who paroled between 2003-2009 found that less than 10% returned to prison or jail — an approximate savings of $40 million to the state and taxpayers based on the average state cost to incarcerate someone at $47,421,” the website states.

Founded in 2002 in collaboration with the Insight Prison Project at San Quentin State Prison, IGP now operates in 11 California prisons serving men, women, and youth and is expanding its programming to prisons across the country by partnering with other nonprofit community-based organizations and correctional facilities seeking to end ongoing cycles of incarceration. You can support IGP by donating here or by volunteering (currently only available in California and Indiana).

Big Green

The seeds of this Colorado-based organization, which builds Learning Gardens in schools across the country, were planted by Kimbal Musk and Hugo Matheson, co-founders of The Kitchen Restaurant Group, who sought to support local school garden initiatives through their restaurants. Inspired by how school gardens can help students learn to increase their preference for nutritious foods, develop healthier responses to stress, and improve their academic performance, Musk and Matheson built the first-ever learning garden at Schmitt Elementary in Denver.

From there, they formed Big Green to create replicable, scalable school garden solutions in underserved communities across the country. Big Green’s Learning Gardens are not just edible crop growing spaces; they are full-blown outdoor classrooms comprising modular raised beds, seating, and shade. The Learning Garden design is customizable, and each participating school has the chance to work with Big Green’s team of landscape architects to design the ideal solution.

During the pandemic, Big Green has converted many of its Learning Gardens to Giving Gardens that are growing fresh food to support local food relief efforts. You can support their efforts here with donations that support not just the Giving Gardens but also “Big Green at Home” activity bundles and Garden Kits for families to grow their own food at home.

The Garden Conservancy

Consider this the ultimate garden club, all members welcome: this New York-based organization seeks to preserve, share, and celebrate America’s gardens and diverse gardening traditions for the education and inspiration of the public.

Founded in 1989 by Frank Cabot, the Garden Conservancy works with garden owners, gardeners, communities, horticulturalists, garden designers, and historians to preserve existing outstanding gardens and help new community gardens become public resources. Through its “Open Days” program, the Garden Conservancy welcomes over a million garden enthusiasts into participating private gardens across the country, providing access to America’s spectacular gardens that would otherwise not be open to the public.

You can support the Garden Conservancy’s preservation, education, and outreach work by becoming a member, which affords access to the organization's programming throughout the year, or by donating here.

Photo credit: aluxum - Getty Images
Photo credit: aluxum - Getty Images

One Tree Planted

For this Vermont-based nonprofit, creating a healthier environment and protecting biodiversity is as simple as planting a tree—something One Tree Planted has been doing a lot of since launching in 2014. In fact, it has doubled (or more) the number of trees planted year over year, reaching 4 million planted in 2019.

Today, One Tree Planted works with reforestation partners in North America, South America, Asia and Africa to get trees into the ground, restoring forests after fires and floods, creating jobs, building communities, and protecting habitats for biodiversity. You can support its mission hereby donating to a tree planning project (each dollar equals one tree planted) and by becoming a One Tree Planted ambassador.

Photo credit: JEFF STATON
Photo credit: JEFF STATON

Your Local Botanical Garden

One of the best ways to support plant-based organizations is to become a member of your local botanical garden. In addition to championing sustainability, conservation, and biodiversity, botanical gardens also seek to educate the public about plants—and many offer free admission. “When you’re a public garden, you’re a garden for the public, for all the people,” says MaryLynn Mack, the incoming president of the American Public Gardens Association and chief operating officer at South Coast Botanic Garden in Palos Verdes Peninsula, California.

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