My View | Terry Hayes: New direction for AHS

My View | Terry Hayes: New direction for AHS
AHS Vice Chair Terry Hayes (Courtesy photo)

In September, the American Horticultural Society announced plans to sell River Farm, which has been our headquarters since 1973. The majority of our board firmly believes it is the most viable option to allow for the continuation of our national nonprofit during very difficult financial times.

Like many national, member-based nonprofits, our revenue streams have been reduced by the online habits of a population outside our traditional community. The financial realities of the past years have reduced our programming reach and our ability to get River Farm and the AHS mission to thrive.

With the added financial strain caused by COVID-19, we have reevaluated our priorities regarding the organization’s mission and with deliberate thought we have decided the future focus of AHS. For our century-old organization to survive and thrive, we have a fiduciary responsibility to pursue a mission-based solution that is proactive, deliberate and dramatic.

We have greatly appreciated the community’s outreach and input, which I assure you the AHS board has heard and taken to heart. We all love River Farm and understand its significance and importance to the Alexandria community. Since the early 1970s we have been pleased to open our headquarters’ grounds to visitors whenever possible and have hosted thousands of life events and celebrations that hold lasting memories for many.

For nearly 50 years, we have done our best to make River Farm pay for itself, but it has always run a deficit because River Farm is expensive to operate and maintain, especially for a small national nonprofit such as ours. During the course of many years the impact has been great.

We have had to defer important infrastructure maintenance to the more than 100-year-old home of our headquarters and the gardens at River Farm. Many plans to improve River Farm have been abandoned due to hurdles and financial restrictions.

We have had to scale back or cancel many of our national programs because of a lack of financial resources. Today, outside of our travel study and youth gardening programs, due to budget constraints, the majority of our educational events are held only at River Farm. This is contrary to who and why we are.

AHS’ national mission of connecting Americans with plants demands that we seek opportunities which expand geographic accessibility and programs that resonate with diverse communities across the United States from Alaska to Florida and from Maine to Hawaii.

Rather than merging with the American Public Gardens Association, as we previously considered, our board is now committed to focusing on our national mission and maintaining AHS as an independent national nonprofit with its own board, staff and headquarters.

We are working thoughtfully to complete a sustainable business model that will allow AHS to streamline expenses and effectively deliver plant-based programming to all Americans for the next 100 years.

For this renewed vision to move forward, we must first take steps to ensure that AHS is financially secure. The proceeds from the sale of River Farm will be used to create a significant endowment which has been the missing link in our financial viability.

And so, the time has come. As we prepare to pass on the stewardship of River Farm, we share the community’s hope of finding a new owner who will work to preserve and protect this beautiful and historic property. We are willingly working in good faith with elected officials and other interested nonprofits to explore options to benefit River Farm and AHS.

I sincerely thank our members, donors, volunteers and community for their past support which has been invaluable to AHS. Your continued support and input is important and graciously received as we move in this exciting new direction.

The writer is vice chair for AHS for Alexandria.