California’s conservation priorities increasingly call for restoring nature to address climate change, water security, and biodiversity loss. Yet, to restore nature, we need native plants—lots of them. As the supply of vital native seeds struggles to keep up with demand, River Partners and our native seed farm, Heritage Growers, are taking the lead to fill the gap and grow a thriving future for the state.
Excerpt from “The Native Seed Gold Rush”Getting seeds has never been exactly easy for River Partners. The organization gathers and purchases seed grown in areas that are as close to a project site as possible, and only one or two generations removed from their feral origins, to avoid inadvertently adapting wild plants to the relatively soft life offered by a nursery. Rentner’s first sign that the native seed problem was about to get a lot more complicated came in 2018. River Partners had finally wended through a complicated tangle of permits and gotten the green light to start restoring the first 800 acres at Dos Rios, on the banks of the San Joaquin River. The nonprofit went to buy 2,400 pounds of native grass seed from Hedgerow Farms, a nearby native seed supplier. But when River Partners put in the order, they were “flabbergasted,” Rentner says. The price per pound had tripled, from $40 to $120. “A lot of people are counting on us,” says Renter. “It takes huge numbers of people all working together—from federal agency staff, and state agency staff, and locals and county supervisors who support you, and other NGOs. There’s so many people relying on this work to then be stuck at ‘Oh, we can’t afford the seed anymore.’ ”