Calvin College to Host Native Plant Sale

The idea of going “local” has been all the rage in recent years, applying to food, goods, and services. But what about local plants?

On May 5, Calvin College will host its annual Native Plant Sale. This is an opportunity for residents to reap the benefits of plants that are native to the Grand Rapids area. Biology professor Dave Warners, who coordinates the sale, said the annual event grew from a project he started with one of his classes.

“If you buy native plants commercially they’re very expensive,” said Warners. “But native plants are the best for attracting butterflies and birds and things like that, so we grew some plants for a school, and when that worked out great, we did it kind of as a service learning project with students.”

After becoming aware of Warners’ project, other schools expressed interest in having their own gardens. As people from the community found out about the project, people began to request native plants for their own yards.

“They’d ask us if we had extras,” said Warners, “or if they could buy some, so eventually we formalized it into a sale.”

Warners hopes that this sale will generate enthusiasm for native plants, which are easy to grow and maintain and which reflect Michigan’s natural heritage, among other benefits.

“It struck me as inconsistent,” said Warners, “that when we as human beings make cities, we come to an area and say, ok, we’re going to make a city here, and what we do is just get rid of nature, we just push nature aside and build our cities, and then suddenly we have the urban and we have the natural, two separate places.”

“So now,” he said, “when you live in a city you have to ‘get out’ to nature, and that is our model of development. And I don’t think that’s the only way that development can be done. If we could do a city where we fit ourselves in to the natural landscape that’s already there, instead of just kind of obliterating it and imposing our own presence, I think that would be a much better way to be part of the creation.”

Warners said that more native plants in the city means more butterflies and birds, because the plants are the basis for food chains, increasing biodiversity.

Warners is proud of the local nature of this project. The seeds for the sale are all collected locally, almost exclusively in the Kent County area. This means that these plants are not only native species but they are also local species, so their genetics have evolved right here in Kent County.

“The idea is that if you have a plant from Kent County, its lineage goes back a long ways in Kent County and it is very well adapted to conditions here,” said Warners.

As far as pricing for the sale is concerned, Warners’ vision requires keeping the plants inexpensive to get as many of them into the city as possible.

“Last year we had a lot of people asking us if we were going to do a fall sale too,” said Warners. “We haven’t taken that plunge yet, but that might be coming.”

The profits go to the Plaster Creek Summer Camps program, a day camp where Calvin students go every other week to lead a new group of kids in helping to clean up Plaster Creek, a highly polluted stream that drains a lot of southeast Grand Rapids.

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