By Claire Lafave
In our farm to school program on Martha’s Vineyard, seeds are one of the core curricular areas that we return to year after year with our students, as they move from preschool through elementary, middle, and high school. Seed saving has become an integral tool for connecting with students about food culture, life cycles, and community. We have two seed stories we’d like to share with you: This year our teen program, The Farm Project, helped facilitate the launch of the island’s first community seed library, and one of our island elementary schools organized an all-school seed sale, selling seeds that they had grown, packaged, and labeled themselves to raise money for their garden.
School Garden Seed Sale:
The Chilmark School is a small K-5 school comprised of four mixed grade classrooms. Last spring, the 4th and 5th grade classes learned about plant reproduction by acting out the plant life cycle from bud to fruit and dissecting flowers from the garden. Then they observed, smelled, and touched a variety of different heirloom seeds, guessing what plants they belonged to. As the seed names were revealed so were their stories: teosinte (the ancestor of corn) saved by the Maya people; cotton bred and saved by the Hopi people; and lettuce bred and prized by an Englishman named Clarence Webb. The students planted flowers, vegetables, and grains in their garden with the intent to save their seeds in the fall, and start to develop and tell their own stories of Chilmark School’s seeds.
This fall our most successful seed crops were African marigolds, Love-in-a-mist flowers, and Duborskian South River rice, a variety grown and cultivated by Christian Elwell in western Massachusetts for the past 30 years. All four classrooms helped to harvest, dry, and save these seeds. After planting out 15 rice seedlings in the spring, the 2nd and 3rd grade classroom and the 4th and 5th grade classroom counted our rice harvest and came to a total of 2,580 seeds! With this great abundance, we started to plan for a holiday seed sale to share our seeds with the community and to raise money to re-build the raised beds in our garden.
After all of the Chilmark students worked together to design labels for our seed packets, the 4/5 led an all-school workshop to package the seeds. The 4/5 students reminded their younger peers that by saving seeds from our garden we are growing crops adapted to our soil and climate, we are recycling rather than wasting a valuable resource, and we are sharing a piece of our garden with our community. Then the 4/5 students led their peers in folding origami seed packets, affixing labels, filling packets with seeds, and sealing the packets. We ended up with baskets overflowing with beautiful hand-made seed packets filled with student grown seeds! After the workshop, one student shared that by working together the group had accomplished much more than he thought they could, and a younger student shared that the activity was so fun she forgot to be shy. The 4/5 students planned for and managed the seed sale before and after school the following week, raising $621 to support our garden re-build.
Teens Teach Adults About Seed Saving
Seeds have this incredible capacity to attract us. Whether as children or adults, when we see seeds we want to run our fingers through them, and perhaps sneak a few into our pockets, but it’s rare that we get to handle seeds we’ve grown ourselves. The Farm Project, our teen program, has helped build a stronger relationship with seeds in our community by facilitating workshops for community members interested in learning about seed saving through the new Martha’s Vineyard Community Seed Library.
This fall the Farm Project crew led sessions on saving lettuce, beans, and tomato seeds. They helped adults rub lettuce seeds through screens and blow off the extra chaff with their breath, stomp on dried beans and collect the beautiful gem-like seeds inside, and make a fermented concoction of tomato seeds to ensure that the germination-inhibiting sacs were removed before the tomato seeds dried. This winter they facilitated a community seed swap and demonstrated how to do a germination test to calculate seed viability. Community members organized the seeds they brought to share with each other by plant family on a table. It wasn’t long before hesitant glances turned into a friendly frenzy of gathering seeds into envelopes and pockets to take home.
We like these seed stories because in both of them the students took the helm and guided the work. Not only were they captivated by the science and beauty of seeds, but also they became active seed stewards and educators. The story of seeds is one of hope and abundance. Out of one seed come many. We hope that our stories inspire many more from you.
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