2009 Annual Report

2009 Annual Report

Susan A. Willetts
Chairman of the Board

Last June, when I became chairman of the board, I was delighted by the opportunity to deepen my commitment to the Chicago Botanic Garden. Serving in this new capacity has allowed me to continue working on securing the Garden’s future.

During 2009, the Garden—along with many other cultural institutions—faced the challenges of uncertain economic times. Then, as now, the board and staff adhered to the simple philosophy that good things will happen over the long term if we always remain true to the Garden’s mission and core values in the short term. Our commitment to these principles was strengthened by the Garden’s many successes last year.

While the economy was uncertain, the response to the critical need for plant conservation science was not. The Plant Conservation Science Initiative has raised nearly $40 million—enough to open the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center last September and launch the new Ph.D. program in Plant Conservation Biology with Northwestern University. I deeply appreciate the generosity of the Garden’s board, corporate and foundation supporters, and friends, and remain confident in our ability to reach our fundraising goals.

Despite our successes, the challenges we faced sharpened our focus on controlling our financial future. The Garden reduced expenses while expanding programs that provide new sources of revenue. These efforts, part of the newly adopted ten-year strategic plan, will allow the Garden to keep growing, and give us a firm foundation on which to begin to raise funds for the Children’s Learning Campus and other strategically important projects.

I want to express my profound respect for the entire Chicago Botanic Garden staff. The breadth of their talents, award-winning and record-setting accomplishments, and devotion to the natural world inspire me. I thank them and the entire Garden community for the welcoming embrace and generous spirit that made an exceptional year even better.

With appreciation,

Susan A. Willetts

Sophia Siskel
President & CEO

Opened to the public only 38 years ago this month, the Chicago Botanic Garden has grown rapidly from acorn to thriving sapling. The Garden offers exceptional beauty, lifelong learning, healing, inspiration, and scientific discovery. With branches extending into distant communities, always with a keen focus on the citizens of Cook County, the Garden’s programs serve people of all ages and abilities.

In 2009, a year of economic crisis, the Garden’s staff, boards, volunteers, sponsors, and friends collaborated in remarkable ways. Together, we flourished. We set short-term records. We created ambitious yet thoughtful goals for the future, united by the title, “Keep Growing.” Over the next ten years, we will keep growing—deeper and stronger—to mature from splendid sapling to deep-rooted tree. We will fully realize our mission to promote the enjoyment, understanding, and conservation of plants and the natural world.

PHOTO: Plant Science CenterA few highlights from 2009:

  • Record-breaking attendance—almost 900,000 visits—and the largest membership support in the Garden’s history confirm the relevance of the Garden’s mission and underscore the importance of this unique life-affirming haven.
  • The opening of the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center—on time and under budget—enables the Garden to fulfill its commitment to global leadership in plant conservation science and education.
  • The continuation of a remarkable partnership with the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, its president, board of commissioners, and Steven M. Bylina, Jr., general superintendent,
    provides a thriving example of a model public/private enterprise.
  • A new ten-year strategic plan—“Keep Growing”—charts a path to deepen the Garden’s impact across all programs and audiences. To focus our work and communicate with complete transparency, we have built a comprehensive new website around the plan:
  • A strong bottom line in 2009 reverses the results of a disappointing 2008. In 2009 we all dug deeper. Each staff person committed to saving $5 a day. Donors maintained, and often even increased, their support. The Woman’s Board of the Chicago Horticultural Society and the Guild of the Chicago Botanic Garden intensified their efforts. The 700 families in the President’s Circle contributed more than half of the total Annual Fund. Corporate and foundation partners remained committed—as on-site volunteers and as financial sponsors. The Forest Preserve District of Cook County provided major critical, and timely, operating support.

Writing this now, nearly six months already into 2010, I feel grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments of 2009. While preparing this report, I have read each of your names and reflected on your generosity. I am honored to serve an institution to which you offer your time and expertise, share your resources, and entrust the memories of those you love. It is only together that the Chicago Botanic Garden will keep growing; your generosity will help provide a broad canopy of comfort, inspiration, healing, and knowledge to future generations, but also serve as a living memorial to those who loved the Garden before us.

With sincere gratitude,

Sophia Siskel

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2010 Annual Report

Susan A. Willetts
Chairman of the Board

When I became chairman of the Chicago Horticultural Society in June 2009, I followed in the footsteps of visionary leaders whose investments of time and resources had enabled a degraded marshland to grow into a renowned public garden on land owned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. Then, as now, I embraced the opportunity to ensure our beloved Garden’s future is as successful as its past was remarkable.

Under the able leadership of the Garden’s senior staff, in partnership with the Society’s Board, the Garden adopted a new ten-year strategic plan in 2009. Entitled “Keep Growing,” the plan acknowledges the Garden’s mission can only be fulfilled if the Garden is financially secure.

While solidifying the Garden’s financial position is a long-term pursuit, in 2010 a laserlike focus throughout the Garden generated positive results that greatly strengthened the foundation on which the future is being built.

  • Membership revenue was the highest in Garden history, as were contributions to its Annual Fund. Growing these revenue sources provides a larger offset to annual operating expenses.
  • Sixty-one percent of contributions to the Annual Fund were from members of the President’s Circle, who annually give $1,000 or more. Unrestricted support from this loyal donor community underwrites plans supporting the Garden’s four operational pillars: Buildings and Gardens; Marketing and Visitor Experience; Science and Academic Programs; and Education and Community Programs.
  • The Woman’s Board continued its historic role by managing profitable events that now provide critical support of the Rainwater Glen and Green Roof Garden. Proceeds from the Guild’s Harvest Ball help to underwrite the Garden’s programs for children and teachers.
  • Revenue from corporate sponsorships grew by 25 percent. Diversifying our revenue sources over time will reduce the risks of future economic uncertainty.
  • The mission of the Garden as well as the successful public/private partnership between the Garden and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County contributed to the Garden continuing to receive the unique and essential resources that each of these partners provides.

During the next nine years, the “Keep Growing” strategic plan will shape the future of the Chicago Botanic Garden. I encourage everyone who belongs to the Garden or cares about its mission to join me in growing their own contribution to the Annual Fund. Together, with a nod to the past, we can help the Garden secure its future, as well as our own.

On behalf of the Chicago Horticultural Society,

Susan A. Willetts
Chairman of the Board

Sophia Siskel
President & CEO

In 2010, the Chicago Botanic Garden completed the first year of a new ten-year strategic plan, “Keep Growing.” The plan, presented on the Garden’s website, lays out a vision and set of values that focus on serving the needs of the Garden’s diverse audiences and on deepening our commitment to preserve plants and the healthy habitats on which they depend.

The Garden is indeed growing and flourishing. Throughout 2010, as a result of your investment, we already began to see positive results, as measured by a variety of record-setting accomplishments:

The Garden is growing so more people from around the world can learn from and be inspired by 385 acres of exquisite display gardens, four rare natural areas, and more than 61 acres of lakes and waterways.
In 2010, the Garden welcomed more than 900,000 visitors, exceeding by 2 percent the previous attendance record (of 23 percent year-over-year attendance growth, set in 2009), and further establishing the Garden as a leading Chicago, and national, attraction.

The Garden is growing so more children can experience the power of nature and receive essential science education.
In 2010, more than 25,000 children in school groups, 2,300 in camp and Scout programs, and another 80,000 in family groups participated in Garden programs designed to strengthen their connection to nature and nurture their curiosity about science. For students from preK to Ph.D., the Garden’s Science Career Continuum provides science education critical to our future as a nation and species.

The Garden is growing so more families enjoy greater access to fresh vegetables and the nutritional benefits, as well as employment opportunities, they provide.
In 2010, Green Youth Farm and Windy City Harvest program participants, along with community partners, harvested more than 25,000 pounds of produce that was sold at markets or donated to food pantries in low-income neighborhoods in Cook and Lake Counties. These programs are growing with new partners to create more jobs in urban agriculture.

The Garden is growing so more college graduates with science degrees can gain valuable work experience, further their career, and help protect America’s natural resources.
In 2010, a record 138 interns in our Conservation and Land Management Internship Program, funded by the Bureau of Land Management, benefitted from paid internships in 13 western states. In 2010, a record 31 graduate students were enrolled in the Garden’s master’s and doctoral programs in Plant Biology and Conservation delivered in partnership with Northwestern University. Taught by the Garden’s plant biologists in the laboratories of the Garden’s Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center, the program uniquely trains students to address the conservation challenges of our time.

The Chicago Botanic Garden is growing its impact—in these ways and many more. Please visit strategicplan.chicagobotanic.org to monitor our progress. In addition to providing measures of success, this website offers testimonials from those we serve. These personal stories demonstrate the Garden’s relevance, and, when reviewed together with our measurable achievements, demonstrate that we employ your investment thoughtfully. I am grateful for the generosity you have shown; your engagement allows the Garden to continue its journey along the path from great to legendary.

On behalf of the Chicago Botanic Garden,

Sophia Siskel
President & CEO

Attendance and Membership Community
Outreach Programs
Bureau of Land
Management Interns
Center for Teaching and Learning

2010 Attendance:
The highest in Garden history.

2010 Membership:
member households
Approximately 73% of members renew their membership each year.

In 2010, Green Youth Farm and Windy City Harvest program participants, along with community partners, harvested more than
25,000 lbs
of produce that was sold at farmers' markets or donated to food pantries in low-income neighborhoods in Cook and Lake Counties.

The Conservation Land Management Intern Program trained and placed
138 young biologists
in internships across the country. These internships involve work in botany or wildlife-related fields, including seed collection and monitoring threatened and endangered species and habitats in 12 western states.

We welcomed more than:
25,000 students
from Chicago Public Schools, Greater Cook County, and surrounding area-students, scout troops, summer campers, and family groups.

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2011 Annual Report

Susan A. Willetts
Chairman of the Board

In 1962, a group of visionaries began planning for a public garden to be built outside of Chicago on land owned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. A decade later, the Chicago Botanic Garden welcomed its first visitors. Funding needs then, as now, were met by public and private contributions made possible by individuals who shared the dream. Today, 40 years later, the Garden has grown in beauty and importance to its ever-expanding constituency. Its funding requirements have grown as well. As chairman of the Chicago Horticultural Society, it has been my privilege to work with the dedicated supporters of the Garden to secure the financial future of this remarkable institution, so that it can continue to deliver on its promise.

When the Garden’s ten-year strategic plan, Keep Growing, was launched in December 2009, the economy was experiencing a severe downturn. While the economy has since exhibited some recovery from its trough, one doesn’t need to look far to realize that times remain difficult for so many public institutions and private households. Strict financial controls along with focused and thoughtful programming during these last several years have enabled the Garden not only to weather the difficult economic climate, but to thrive despite its challenges. In 2011, during the second year of the Garden’s strategic plan, a number of milestones were achieved:

  • Membership revenue reached an all-time high, and Annual Fund contributions nearly equaled the peak achieved in 2010.
  • President’s Circle membership, consisting of donors who annually give more than $1,000, reached record numbers.
  • The Woman’s Board and the Guild again held highly successful events generating proceeds to support research, capital projects such as the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden, children’s education programs, and community gardening programs.
  • Corporate sponsorships increased by 50 percent over 2010.
  • The Garden, through its Windy City Harvest program, worked with Kraft Foods to establish the Kraft Foods Garden. This new corporate garden will help feed the hungry and provide jobs training in urban agriculture.

In 2011, our many generous donors made special gifts to critically important Keep Growing capital projects, such as the North Lake shoreline restoration; the Learning Campus, including the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden, Kleinman Family Cove, and Education Center; and the planned new plant production greenhouses and nursery. I am pleased to report that the Board also demonstrated its commitment by voting to increase the minimum level of financial support expected of each board member.

It is through the dedication of its boards, staff, and volunteers that the Garden has been able to grow and flourish over the past four decades. I am especially appreciative of the support the Garden receives from the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. This successful public/private partnership between the Garden and the Forest Preserve District is central in fulfilling the Garden’s mission.

With my gratitude on behalf of the Chicago Horticultural Society,

Susan A. Willetts
Chairman of the Board 

Sophia Siskel
President & CEO

Sophia SiskelHappy 40th birthday to the Chicago Botanic Garden! There is much to celebrate as we reflect on the evolution of this extraordinary place, and anticipate its future. Last year, the Garden completed the second year of its ten-year strategic plan, “Keep Growing.” In every way, 2011 exemplified this theme.

We believe people live better, healthier, and more satisfying lives when they create, care for, and enjoy gardens. We also believe that nurturing the next generation of conservation scientists and land stewards is essential. Last year the Garden experienced a third year of record growth, welcoming nearly one million visitors. This upward trend speaks to our growing relevance and ability to serve so many diverse audiences from all backgrounds, interests, and abilities.

As the Garden matures into one of the world’s great living museums and conservation science laboratories, our impact deepens. The first phases of our new Learning Campus were completed in 2011. This June we are thrilled to dedicate the new Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden, and we look forward to the opening of the Kleinman Family Cove in August. These important areas will complement the new Education Center and Garden, for which we are fundraising. In conjunction with existing educational opportunities and facilities, the completed Learning Campus will confirm the Garden’s role as an international leader in teaching science to youth—including students from Chicago Public Schools.

To that end, we also streamlined our successful minority student mentoring programs into the Science Career Continuum.

During 2011, the Garden kept growing in other ways:

  • We made significant progress in restoring our shoreline on the North Lake, which will not only improve the Garden’s aquatic ecosystem but also support research and education programs.
  • Our community gardening programs provided important hands-on education and jobs training in sustainable urban agriculture. More than 60 teenagers learned and worked at our Green Youth Farm locations, and 30 adult graduates of the Sheriff’s Cook County Boot Camp worked in transitional jobs through our Windy City Harvest program, offered in partnership with Richard J. Daley College.
  • We demonstrated our ongoing commitment to serve the needs of veterans with an appreciation day for 300 military families.
  • We welcomed more students into our master’s and Ph.D. programs in conservation science, offered in partnership with Northwestern University. In 2011 we served 20 M.S. and seven Ph.D. students.
  • Nearly 100 Garden-trained interns assisted at U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management sites throughout 13 western states.

There’s much more. Please visit strategicplan.chicagobotanic.org to discover all of the ways we grew last year, and will keep growing this year and in years to come. 

I am grateful to each of you for your generous support. Our Garden is a place of great beauty, in-depth research, and educational opportunity, where excellence is “Garden style.”

I can only imagine how gratified and amazed our turn-of-the-century founders would be if they could see the fruit borne from the seed of their idea.

On behalf of the Chicago Botanic Garden,

Sophia Siskel
President & CEO

Attendance and Membership Community
Outreach Programs

2011 Attendance:
The highest in Garden history—setting records for the third year in a row.

2011 Membership:
member households
Approximately 73% of members renew their membership each year.

In 2011, Green Youth Farm and Windy City Harvest program participants, along with community partners, harvested more than
41,000 lbs
of produce—some of it from a new garden at Kraft Foods—that was sold at farmers' markets or donated to food pantries in low-income neighborhoods in Cook and Lake Counties.

The Conservation Land Management Intern Program trained and placed
99 young biologists
in internships across the country. These internships involve work in botany or wildlife-related fields, including seed collection and monitoring threatened and endangered species and habitats in 12 western states. Since the program’s inception, the Garden has trained more than 700 interns, mainly for the BLM.

In 2011, we welcomed more than
5,319 adults
who participated in programs offered by the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden—including 375 continuing education, certificate, symposia, and conference programs—and75,000children
who attended 341 youth education programs.

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2012 Annual Report

Robert Finke
Chairman of the Board

It is my great privilege to work with the dedicated boards, staff, volunteers, members, and friends of the Chicago Botanic Garden whose enduring efforts and support, as well as that of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, have made the Garden what it is today: one of the very few botanic gardens in the world recognized not only for captivating display gardens, but also for far-reaching scientific research, broad educational opportunities, and innovative urban agriculture jobs-training programs that benefit people in all areas of Cook County.

Last year, the Garden completed the third year of its ten-year strategic plan, "Keep Growing." In those three years, the Garden has made great strides to meet the plan's goals. More than $34 million has been raised to support the capital projects and endowment needs set forth in the plan, which is available on the Garden's website. Indeed, 2012 was the most successful year in the Garden's history—with $26 million raised to support the Garden's operations and programs. The Annual Fund, which is critical to the daily operating needs of the Garden, reached an all-time high of $3.1 million thanks to contributions from the Board of Directors, the Woman's Board, the Guild, and many generous members and friends of the Garden. The Annual Fund and continuing support from the Forest Preserve District are the lifeblood that enables the Garden to open every day. In addition, corporate and individual sponsorships of $630,000, Garden gala net proceeds of $640,000, and $7.7 million in gifts and government grants for specific programs also helped the Garden to serve its varied constituencies in 2012.

But the Garden cannot rest on past success. First among the Garden's needs are new greenhouses and nurseries. The existing facilities grow much of what is on display in the Garden and play a critical role in plant science research; older than the Garden, they lack the modern technology needed to meet increasing demands and ensure a vibrant Garden in the future. The Garden must raise $37 million to install new greenhouses and nurseries, and to complete an adjacent extraordinary new display garden designed by Peter Wirtz, who is known the world over for his uniquely beautiful and functional landscape architecture. This Wirtz garden, along with the new greenhouses and nurseries, will transform the southern part of the Garden into a destination point for visitors and scientists alike.

To address the growing need for environmental education, the Garden is developing a comprehensive Learning Campus. Its next phase is a new Education Center emphasizing children's learning experiences and including another new display garden, this one designed by Mikyoung Kim, also recognized throughout the world for her creative and innovative landscape design. The Learning Campus, located at the north end of the Garden and also comprising the Kleinman Family Cove and the Grunsfeld Children's Growing Garden, will become a focal point for visitors of all ages. To complete the Learning Campus, $18 million is needed.

Together, these projects will complete the Garden's master site plan and provide visitors with exceptional opportunities to enjoy new display gardens, discover how the Garden grows what 2 you see, and learn about plants, the natural world, and how the Garden works to enhance and conserve them. Together, the Greenhouses and Nursery and Learning Campus projects will affirm the Garden's role as a world leader in horticulture, visitor engagement, environmental education, and conservation research.

More immediately, the Garden Café will undergo renovation and expansion beginning in November 2013 to enhance visitor convenience and service, with completion by spring 2014. A bike path that will connect the Garden entrance to the Braeside Metra station and the Green Bay Trail also will be completed in 2014. Finally, several long-overdue infrastructure projects will be completed in 2013.

A word about the Garden's endowment: a healthy endowment is necessary to ensure that future generations will be able to treasure the Garden as we do. The Garden's endowment currently stands at approximately $70 million; that may seem quite healthy, and the Garden is grateful to all who have contributed to the endowment, but the need to grow the endowment is ever present. The Garden's goal is to bring the endowment to $120 million by 2020, including return on investments. To help the Garden meet that goal and to encourage others to follow its lead, the Negaunee Foundation has very generously committed $3 million to endow the position of Vice President of Science. We are grateful to the Negaunee Foundation for this leadership gift, which recognizes the importance of science and research to the Garden and the role that gifts to the endowment play in sustaining institutions like ours. Congratulations to Greg Mueller, Ph.D., on his new title.

The Chicago Botanic Garden owes its very life to its many friends—government entities, corporations, foundations, and individuals—and on behalf of the Garden and the Chicago Horticultural Society, I thank each of them. The Garden's future is bright, but there are many challenges we must meet to secure that future. I am confident that the Garden will enjoy the support of existing and new friends and benefactors. Together we are able to serve the nearly one million people who visit the Garden each year or avail themselves of the Garden's many programs, and to fund the scientific research and education essential to our earth's future.

With gratitude and warm regards,

Robert Finke
Chairman of the Board

Sophia Siskel
President & CEO

Sophia SiskelThe famous proverb "A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in" captures perfectly the essence of the work we do at the Chicago Botanic Garden. My experience of nearly six years in this job has also caused me to consider how gardening—in our back yards, along our windowsills, or on the grand scale of the public Garden—can provide a guide for how we might approach other parts of our lives.

For what does gardening require?

Above all, patience, like the proverb suggests. And in addition to patience, a thriving garden requires a commitment to beautiful design, science, learning from each other, hard work, respect, and faith. It is these six components bundled together that form my gardening ethic, one I see manifested daily at the Chicago Botanic Garden and one that, if applied broadly, could bring about positive cultural change. Here, the results are a strong financial bottom line and a healthy, vibrant living museum.

What do I mean?

First, let's focus on the benefits of creating beauty.
The word beauty has taken on negative—superficial—qualities in past decades. But if we reflect on the skill, effort, and time it takes to design and craft something of enduring beauty, we can again realize its importance. A key tenet in the Chicago Botanic Garden's belief system is that beautiful gardens are fundamentally important to the mental and physical well being of all people. At the Garden, amid spectacularly beautiful surroundings, the healing power of nature is evident every day, calming the spirit and nurturing the body and mind for nearly one million visitors each year. And by providing beautiful surroundings to people who need them now more than ever, the Garden can thrive economically, and provide jobs. In 2012, attendance was the highest in the Garden's history for the fourth year in a row. This success allows us to employ 240 full-time people, plus more than 300 seasonal workers, and provide meaningful opportunities for 1,300 critically important volunteers.

When we integrate the beauty of nature and gardens into our lives, it is scientifically proven that we are healthier—mentally and physically. More of our Garden programs now center on health and wellness, and concentrate on the healing power of horticultural therapy. In 2012, the Garden graduated seven students from the Horticultural Therapy certificate program and enrolled 12 more for 2013; we hosted military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, expanded our relationships with local and state veteran organizations, and advised on creating healing gardens at medical facilities.

Second, let's look at the importance of science.
In our earliest elementary school science classes, we begin to learn about plant science. We learn about Earth's most basic functions—photosynthesis and the carbon and water cycles. Somehow, though, by the time we are adults, many of us have forgotten that humans are dependent on plants and healthy ecosystems for food, clean air and water, medicine, clothing, and shelter. We forget that the future of life on Earth depends on how we understand, value, and protect plants and the habitats on which they depend.

Here at the Garden, science informs much of what we do. The Garden's conservation science efforts span the globe while remaining centered around the United States and the Midwest in particular. In 2012, Garden scientists worked within and outside the nine laboratories of the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center. They mentored students within the Garden's Science Career Continuum for underserved children throughout the Chicago area. They taught classes at Northwestern University as part of our joint graduate program in plant biology and conservation. Since 2001, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management, the Garden has placed 700 conservation science interns at sites throughout 13 western states. Additionally, our Plants of Concern program engages citizen scientists as part of a diverse constituency that monitors 237 rare plant species at 308 sites.

The Garden's science programs have a positive impact not only on plants, but also on the Garden's bottom line. Increased scientific productivity resulted in more than $4 million in grants received in 2012, and had an impact in building stronger economies, environments, and human capacity.

Third, let's consider the ways gardening reinforces how we must always be learning from each other.
A garden, and then, after the harvest, a kitchen, provide the perfect places to learn from each other and work together. People from different generations, cultures, religions, and abilities have different ways of actively and productively participating in the gardening process, from seed to soup. There are many examples, but one in particular resonates with me: last September, on the West Side of Chicago, a former jail inmate and I shared a crunchy beet—one he had grown through our Windy City Harvest urban farming and jobs-training program. Our brief but personal encounter reinforced my conviction that gardening forges basic human connections.

At the Chicago Botanic Garden, we understand that fascination with a single brightly colored blossom—or beet—has the potential to bloom into a career in plant science, a lifelong commitment to conservation, or a devotion to gardening and growing our own food. We know that people live better, healthier, and more satisfying lives when they can create, care for, and enjoy gardens. So, here at the Garden, we offer more than 500 formal and informal education programs. From family drop-in activities to Camp CBG, and from the Science Career Continuum to graduate education, for students in any phase of life, the Garden offers programs that heal, entertain, and train.

And again, investing in the long term—which is what education is—can be good business. In 2012, Garden revenue exceeded projections by 13 percent for adult education classes, and Camp CBG increased revenue over 2011.

Fourth, let's acknowledge that a thriving garden—anything productive in fact—takes hard work.
The Chicago Botanic Garden uses our knowledge and plants, and the intense impact they have on people's lives, as a catalyst for change. Windy City Harvest, headquartered at one of the City Colleges of Chicago, is part of a pipeline of opportunity within the criminal justice system offered to a selection of offenders and ex-offenders who work toward transitional jobs and eventual college certification in urban agriculture. Through Windy City Harvest, the Garden operates one of the top three urban agriculture production programs in Chicago, and the only one that awards an accredited certificate. So far, 89 percent of students in the urban agriculture certificate program have found employment. Additionally, our Green Youth Farm program offers mentoring for at-risk teens.

In 2012, on a total of five acres throughout the Chicago area, the Garden's community gardening program generated nearly 80,000 pounds of produce. Again, this work makes good economic sense: produce sales were up 30 percent from 2011. Portions of the harvest help to feed underserved communities within and outside of Chicago. Last year, 1,500 bags of fresh produce were distributed to Women, Infant, and Children distribution centers. Since 2003, participants have grown and harvested more than 200,000 pounds of produce, serving more than 1,000 Green Youth Farm and Windy City Harvest students and adults, and generating more than $300,000 in sales.

My fifth point about what gardening can teach us is about respecting the finite resources of our earth.
As the planet's population continues to grow to 10 billion people by 2050, we will need to determine the best way to interact with nature, to protect the principal it provides and live off the interest. We need to understand our inputs and do all we can to make a difference, even if we think it's not a high-impact gesture. At the Chicago Botanic Garden in 2012, we reduced pesticide use, celebrated our fifth year of not selling bottled water, and composted 39 tons of waste. Thanks to the many sunny (hot!) days we had last year, 2012 was also a great year for generating solar credits. Our Plant Science Center and the Children's Growing Garden together provided the Garden with 58 Solar Renewable Energy Credits, which we sold for nearly $15,000.

Finally, my sixth point about gardening and life is about faith.
Even with the best intentions, design, science, education, hard work, and respect, we still have to have faith that the seed we plant will grow. Here at the Garden, we see a nature-based faith practiced every day in those who visit, one that complements whatever religious backgrounds our visitors may have. Our founders intended for the Garden to be a place where all people could come and learn about and enjoy nature, and so over the years we have become a place of human as well as plant diversity.

What does all of this mean?

I see the gardening ethic I have just described applied every day at the Chicago Botanic Garden, with exceptional results. In my view, these same principles collectively applied can and should be part of a global solution to the challenges of our time. And we can just as readily apply these principles to our daily lives. If we as individuals show a commitment to the long-term health and well-being of those we serve, and who serve us, and we model principles of patience, science, and hard work, we will go a long way toward ensuring our ability to provide that metaphorical shade to our grandchildren. All of us can work together to practice a gardening ethic if we are going to proceed gracefully, with beauty and respect, into the twenty-second century.

Thank you for all you do for the Chicago Botanic Garden,

Sophia Siskel
President & CEO

Attendance and Membership Urban

2012 Attendance:
The highest in Garden history—setting records for the fourth year in a row.

2012 Membership:
member households
Approximately 70% of members renew their membership each year.


In 2012 the Chicago Botanic Garden added 429 new taxa to the 9,900 varieties of plants in our collection of 2.6 million. We planted 105,000 bulbs and added 120,000 native plants to the restored North Lake shoreline.

In 2012, on five acres, Green Youth Farm and Windy City Harvest participants, along with community partners, harvested more than
80,000 lbs
of produce, which was sold at neighborhood farmers’ markets or donated to underserved communities in Cook and Lake Counties.

The Garden operates one of the top three urban agriculture programs in Chicago, and the only one that awards an accredited certificate. Since 2009, 87% of graduates have found employment.


In 2012 the Garden composted 78,000 lbs
of waste. Many sunny days enabled the Garden to generate 58 Solar Renwable Energy Credits, which reduced CO2 emissions by 82,462 lbs.

The Conservation Land Management Intern Program trained and placed
140 young biologists
in internships across the country, primarily in 13 western states.

The Science Career Continuum welcomed a record number of
students—66—in 2012.

The Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University combine their strengths to offer a unique graduate program emphasizing environmental plant biology and conservation. In 2012, eight master’s degree and two doctoral students matriculated.

In 2012, we welcomed more than
5,000 adults
who participated in programs offered by the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden—including 433 programs including continuing education and certificate classes, symposia, and conferences.

More than
80,000 children and adults
participated in family programs, and 22,500 schoolchildren and more than 500 teachers also participated in educational programs, along with camps, summer science activities, and scout activities for nearly 3,000 children and teens.

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