Michigan school gardens in winter

There are many educational activities that can be done in the winter to keep the students connected to and learning from the garden, such as seed saving.

As winter approaches and school gardens are put to bed, it is common that the school garden and all of its learning opportunities are left behind until spring. However, there are still many educational activities that can be done during the cold winter months to keep the school garden learning adventure going. Stay tuned for a series of articles highlighting educational garden activities that are accessible and worthwhile to do in your classroom this winter.

If you use open pollinated or heirloom varieties of vegetable seeds, you can let some of your crop go to seed and have your students collect the seed. This practice can cut down on your costs of buying seed in the spring, and reveals a new dimension of the food system. As your school garden program develops, you could start your own seed library.

If you are not familiar with a seed library, it is a depository of seeds held in trust for the members of that library. Members come to the library and borrow seed for their garden. Members then grow the plants in their garden and at the end of the season; they let a few plants go to seed to “return” to the seed library. The returned seeds are then available for another gardener. Seed libraries are great for maintaining varieties of vegetables that are well adapted to your local climate, or that have a certain desired color or taste.

There is a lot of science, history and current events concepts that can be explored with saving seeds, such as genetics (hybrids vs. open pollinated), seed diversity, intellectual property rights and the concentration of the seed producing industry. Seed saving vividly demonstrates the entire food system, rather than just the part that lands on the plate. Seed saving also promotes self-reliance and good, nutritional food.

You could even start a seed library in your classroom, with your school librarian or in partnership with your local Michigan State University Extension office. For example, The North Farm at the MSU Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center, along with the the Transition Marquette Seed Co-op, MQT Growth, and the U.P. Food Exchange have come together to create a program to offer garden support to five schools in the Central U.P. in 2016 called Start Seeds/Save Seeds.

Rebecca Newburn, who teaches science and math at Hall Middle School in Larkspur, California started the nonprofit Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library at the Richmond Public Library, located near Berkeley. Newburn’s work inspired a group of her sixth grade students make their “Mission Sustainable” project to be opening a seed lending library in the school’s library. The students wrote to seed companies, and they “got lots of donations,” she reports.

Seed saving provides “a meaningful way to integrate science into the curriculum,” says Newburn. She plans to integrate the seed lending library with a seventh-grade biology unit on genetics in the hope students will joyfully exclaim, “Wow! These two beans are the same species and can be cross-pollinated!”

For simple steps to start your own seed library, visit the Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library, or Seed Savers.

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