In 2013 Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) hired Terra Design Studios to lead a team in preparing a Site and Interpretive Master Plan for Heritage Farm.  SSE was interested in educating the public about the science they perform, compelling visitors to save their own seeds and develop sites in a manner that does not impact the sensitive ecosystems on their property.  Demonstrating how simple and approachable their science is to its members and visitors became a major focus of the master plan.  To that end, the new Seed Preservation Center will house the preservation department, introduce “science-in-action” to the visiting public, and be an iconic symbol of SSE’s international brand.

Upon entering Heritage Farm, visitors ranging from long-time members to hungry college students are immersed in an authentic Iowa farm experience.  Their senses come alive with the sweet aromas of plants in bloom, and the soft mooing of rare Ancient White Park Cattle from the pastures beyond.  However, the site is not without unique challenges.  Terra paid careful attention to creating an accessible route between the upper and lower campuses, separated by a 100’ embankment that holds the site’s most significant burr oaks.  Visitors are guided away from the “back-of-house” zones, allowing them to experience preservation gardens and seed saving in action.  Guests, research scientists, tractors with wagons full of produce, and livestock abound on the 160-acre campus.

In addition to the working Heritage Farm, SSE maintains 800 acres of native oak-hickory forest, maple-basswood forest, tall grass prairie, and floodplain forests, known as “Twin Valleys”, in a federal conservation easement.  Twin Valleys is open to the public for outdoor recreation and the native ecosystems within it are critical to the sustainable, closed loop agriculture practiced at Heritage Farm, providing habitat for birds, bees, and beneficial insects.  Considerable time was spent on the site determining the best and highest uses in this area relating to outdoor recreation, continued agriculture production, and ecological restoration.


  • Jenny Rigby, The Acorn Group
  • Alan Branhagen, horticulturist and ecologist

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