A North Dakota credit union manager has developed a project that lets kids get their hands dirty growing and selling fresh produce while nurturing their savings.
Nanci Wilson, member service manager at $172 million asset North Star Community Credit Union in Maddock, N.D., developed “Seeds-2-$ave” following her Credit Union Development Educator (DE) training.
The week-long DE program, held by the National Credit Union Foundation, provides training in cooperative principles, credit union philosophy, and international development. Graduates are encouraged to commit to an effort that reflects credit unions’ people-helping-people philosophy.
“When I left DE training I knew I wanted to do something with youth financial literacy, but I needed some sort of visual for kids to watch their money grow,” Wilson recalls. “While I was on the plane home, I literally came up with Seeds-2-$ave on a Delta napkin with the tagline, ‘teaching our kids to nurture their funds to a bountiful growth.’”
Through Seeds-2-$ave, children learn entrepreneurship by planting, growing, picking, and selling vegetables at a local farmers’ market. For her first group of participants, Wilson recruited local Girl Scout Troop 20013.
“I was nervous to pitch it to these girls because I knew it was going to be a lot of work,” Wilson says. “But they were on board with it from start to finish. They were really motivated that they could grow this food, sell it, and make money on it. Their enthusiasm made me excited all over again.”
While the program’s concept is simple, it requires a commitment from everyone involved—and a
lot of community support.
Wilson enlisted friend and master gardener Heather Szkarlarski to help plant, nurture, and harvest the crops. The owner of Grafton Floral, A.K. Moe, not only donated seeds and seedlings for the group, he provided a plot of land for the Girl Scouts to raise their first crop.
The local Caribou Coffee shop provided used espresso grounds to enrich the plot’s soil.
And organizers of a local farmers’ market gave the girls a free booth to sell their produce.
Wilson’s outreach to friends and neighbors was no accident. “I wanted this project to be closely linked to the community,” she says. “I’m a firm believer in the it-takes-a-village philosophy, and that fits in well with our role as a community financial institution.”
In addition to the hard work, Wilson’s first Seeds-2-$ave group overcame some challenges. “The night after we did our first planting there was a horrible rain,” Wilson says. “Everything was washed away. We had to do it all over. I was afraid [the Girl Scouts] wouldn’t come back. But they were all in the branch the next day, ready to go.”
Throughout the summer, the girls and their families worked in shifts, tending and harvesting their garden.
The kids were soon recognized for both their industry and entrepreneurship. After the program was featured in the Grand Forks Herald, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., sent one of her staffers, Cathy Peterson, to meet Wilson. Peterson was the first Seeds-2-$ave customer at the farmers’ market.
Peterson also learned about other North Star Community initiatives, including its backpack exchange program: The credit union repurposes gently used backpacks and fills them with supplies for children each school year.
“We now have an ongoing relationship with Senator Heitkamp’s office,” Wilson says. “I periodically send them emails updating them on our progress. This has opened a great channel of communication for us.”
Seeds-2-$ave also has left an impression on its first participants.
“They learned how to start a business—no pun intended—literally from the ground up,” Wilson says. “When we started this project, I asked [the Girl Scouts] to set a goal. They said $100. They earned about double that.
To them, that’s a huge success and they’re pumped about it.”
These “graduates” will have an opportunity to build on that success. This year, Wilson plans to recruit a group of Boy Scouts for Seeds-2-$ave—and Girl Scout Troop 20013 will serve as their mentors.