Native Connections has seen some changes over the years.
In 1987, Jerry Stewart, an agronomist by training, started his own landscape design and installation company, Lawnscape Plus, Inc. During that time, Jerry developed a keen interest in prairie restoration and native plants, also gaining crucial experience working for the Ed Lowe Foundation and JF New & Associates.
In 2001, Jerry morphed Lawnscape Plus from primarily a lawn service company into one focused on broader native project design, installation, and management as well as native seed production. With the new focus came a new name: Native Connections. The first native fields amounted to 20 acres of native grasses, but by 2006 he had 75 acres of native grasses with SW Michigan genotypes between southern Michigan and northern Indiana. Each species was hand collected from remnant populations around SW Michigan and through a contract with the USDA, Native Connections collected warm and cool season grass seeds from designated remnant stands for a “Southlow” ecotype in order to increase the USDA’s Rose Lake Plant Materials Center selections.
With these native grass plots and other Great Lakes genotype seed, the Native Connections team systematically designed custom seed mixes for various restoration projects around MI, IN, OH, IL and WI. With seeds always a focus of the company, they also provided a full-spectrum of restoration services from botanical inventories and management plans to installation and long-term maintenance.
Remnant Prairie at first Native Connections property
Joining the team in 2012, Jared Foster brought experience in ecological restoration from his work in western states and west Michigan, as well as a formal education and life-long interest in natural resources conservation and the natural world. Over the next 6 years they fine-tuned their production and sales models to meet the ever-growing demands of the native restoration and landscaping industries.
After 30 years, Jerry was ready to turn the company over to new hands. In order to meet the growing demand for more Michigan genotype species, Jared bought the seed portion of the business, focusing on production and sales, and the Kalamazoo Nature Center took on installations, maintenance, and consultations as part of their Ecological Services division. With this change in ownership and focus, we began to move our production fields from Three Rivers to the Kalamazoo area, finding a couple sites that could grow a variety of species. Since 2018, we’ve added more than two dozen species to our selection of MI genotype species and expanded our production fields to just under 100 acres. We will continue to add more species as the years go on.
With each species added to our production, we always ensure the source seed is collected from remnant native populations in southern Michigan, preserving the Michigan genotypes that provide the best seed adapted for projects in our region.