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Sarna Salzman



P.O. Box 2454
Traverse City, Michigan 49685
After earning a master’s degree in community development at UC Davis, Sarna Salzman returned to Michigan in 2001, reconnecting with friends who had founded Traverse City-based SEEDS two years earlier. Salzman refers to her executive directorship as that of a professional networker, facilitating connections that strengthen ties between ecology, education, and design. 
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
SEEDS Executive Director Sarna Salzman: Leadership manifests in so many ways. For me personally, it means several things: listening from an anthropological perspective; sensing connections and opportunities that are hidden to others; making spaces that encourage quiet voices to speak. Leadership also entails balancing the competing desires to explore and expand and to monitor, report, and analyze. It means approaching the world from an optimistic and solution-oriented perspective, helping everyone reframe failures into opportunities, and waste into resources.
What is your dream for kids?
I dream of the day when it is true that every child finds that learning how to eat -- from the garden to the table -- is as natural as playing a video game, when playing outside is as instinctive as turning on a TV, and when adults pay less attention to test scores and more attention to emotional health. I also dream of times ahead where all kids are living in proximity such that
I dream of the day when it is true that every child finds that learning how to eat -- from the garden to the table -- is as natural as playing a video game...
they can find each other and play freely without needing cars nor being endangered by cars.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
We need to improve the local economies of Michigan. And when I say improve the economies, I mean working in a bottom-up fashion with ecosystem health at the forefront of planning. We must realize that ecology and social justice move hand in hand; the health of our ecosystems determines the long-term health of our children. For example, when we pollute the air, asthma rates rise. As one heals, so goes the other. As our communities become more resilient to the chaos of our current economy and changes in long-standing weather patterns, our children will prosper.
How do you know you’re making progress?
We measure our progress on a triple-bottom-line rubric: people, planet, and profit. On the people side, we monitor our students’ academic, cultural, and behavioral success; volunteer engagement; and the morale of our staff and stakeholders.
As for the planet, we measure the greenhouse gas emissions we are responsible for creating. This measure captures the nuance of purchasing recycled products versus virgin, the garbage we produce, the commutes we drive and also the positive impacts we create through habitat restoration. Regarding profit, we like to say “no mission without margin” – we balance our budgets and plan for the future. We also monitor who we spend money with, local versus multi-national. We know that 75 percent of our expenses are invested in real people or businesses owned by real people within 100 miles of our office -- not inclusive of payroll!
What are you most proud of?
I am so happy to work with the staff that we have at SEEDS. I have an overwhelming sense of pride, mixed with humility,
We must realize that ecology and social justice move hand in hand; the health of our ecosystems determines the long-term health of our children.
when I think of their accomplishments. Our team creates projects and stories that I couldn’t even imagine coming up with. They are the most creative and compassionate people I could hope to interact with, and to get paid to do this. It’s one of the joys of the western world, if you can pull it off!
What role have networks played in your professional career? How have those networks, both personal and private, affected the work you are able to do?
I am a professional networker and every accomplishment I may claim is due to my connections with various networks. I particularly love living in the Grand Traverse region because we have a relatively small, interconnected population – instead of six degrees of separation, we have one or two. This means that I am never far from the person who has the keys to the solution I crave. Our leaders are accessible and leadership positions are also accessible. Existing networks can’t help but interconnect, which makes multi-disciplinary activities like the Grand Vision [a Collective Impact network with a 50-year vision] possible. This means that organizations like SEEDS can foster change more quickly and more systemically than in a large metropolitan area because ideas can travel efficiently.
We often use fungus as a biological metaphor for social networks. Before any mushroom can fruit, it must be bolstered by literally miles and miles of mycelia in each inch of soil. These mats of mycelia are some of the “secret sauce” that provides structure to soil and transmits nutrients and information liberally. It is intriguing that maps of mycelia, the Internet, and brain neurons look almost identical. 
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Program Profile

    Educating on ecology, nutrition and DIY


    The mission of SEEDS is to foster local solutions to global issues. They bring a holistic perspective, making connections between ecology and social justice at the intersection of education, ecology and design.


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