Start Seeds/Save Seeds for School Gardens

Saving seeds for planting next year is part of the origins of agriculture, and today it is practiced mostly by seed companies for sale. But more gardeners and farmers are saving their own. Seed saving is a part of the food system that is almost invisible, as seeds are often not mature until after a plant is harvested for food. As more public attention is dedicated to questions like this about where our food comes from and how it is produced, area schools are incorporating gardens into their classroom activities. For school gardens, seed saving shows young learners the entire food system, rather than just the part that lands on the plate.

In response to an increased number of school gardens in the Upper Peninsula, and teachers looking for activities and support for those gardens, a group of central UP organizations that support agricultural education came together in 2013 to form the beginning of Start Seeds/Save Seeds. This program provides transplants, seeds, and classroom activities that give teachers access to the tools and expertise needed to try something new in the garden at their school. After saving seeds for a growing season, students are invited to trade seeds and stories at the community-wide Queen City Seed Library Seed Swap.

"Several schools in the U.P. have started hoophouses and gardens in the past five years," says Abbey Palmer, Education Coordinator at The North Farm, a farm incubator and education center located in Chatham at the Michigan State University Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center. "Using those gardens for seed saving lets us study basic plant genetics, the history of our most common food plants, and start a conversation about the food system." The program has been providing assistance and experiential learning opportunities around farming to area schools through field trips to local farms and hands-on lessons offered at their school garden by community partners. "At Graveraet, kids are learning how to grow food, which is an empowering skill set," says Miriah Redmond, co-founder of MQT Growth, a non-profit that maintains the Graveraet hoop house in the summer.

Certified organic seeds and transplants are provided to participating schools by the North Farm at U.P. Research and Extension Center and Transition Marquette Seed Co-op. Visits to the classroom and educational programming on topics such as planning a seed saving garden, how to save seeds, and seed heritage are also provided by project partners. Mike Riesterer of the Transition Marquette says, "Seed saving is practical, but not often practiced. When kids participate in the process from growing and eating the plant, then start next year's plant with seeds they saved, they understand the entire cycle in a way that few people do. They start to look at food differently—and they're more likely to eat a vegetable that they grew themselves."

Program details

Start Seeds/Save Seeds (S4) is a program that started in MARESA schools in 2015 to provide school garden support: transplants, seeds, and lesson plan ideas. Over the years, interest in the program and funding have increased so that we are now able to offer this program to a greater number of schools in the U.P. 

Seed saving is one of the best ways to interact with the garden, because...

  • Seed saving is hands-on, outdoors, and experiential 
  • Seed saving answers the question: where does food come from? 
  • Studying seed saving illustrates the big picture in many subjects: science and biology, social studies, nutrition and health
  • Seed saving empowers students to become an informed part of the next generation of eaters (and farmers!)

Get plants for your school garden

Transplants and seeds are selected from open-pollinated varieties of popular fruits and veggies that suit our short growing season. The program includes 60-100 transplants and several easy-to-save seeds that are planted directly in the ground in the spring. 

  • Cucumber
  • Tomato
  • Basil
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Pepper
  • Squash
  • Cilantro
  • Bush Bean
  • Carrot
  • Pea

Choose to pick up transplants at the North Farm in Chatham OR get transplants delivered to your school garden when you plant as a class.

Hands-on educational activities

Choose educational activities that teach how to save seeds, eat well, and understand the food system. It's okay if you've never saved seeds before -- these visits from garden educators are a resource to help you and your students learn how to do it and explain why it's important. We offer a variety of experiential learning opportunities connected with seed saving tailored to fit your schedule and the age of your students.

On-farm visit

Classes will be given the opportunity to visit the Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center in Chatham or a farm in their area. Coordination of this event and financial support for busing with be made available through this program.

Swap seeds with other schools

At events throughout the year, join others in the community and meet the gardeners that participated in the program at a seed swaps, potlucks, and workshops with Queen City Seed Library in Marquette.


Thanks to Central Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Regional Commission, MSU Extension, MSU Ag-Bio Research, The North Farm at MSU U.P. Research and Extension Center, The UP Food Exchange, Transition Marquette County, MQT Growth, Queen City Seed Library, and Seed Savers Exchange Community Seed Resource Program for their active participation in this project.

‚ÄčThe estimated value of assistance provided to each of the schools selected for the program is $405 worth of materials, staff time, and travel to visit schools; additional travel funding is available to transport students to local farms for tours.

Questions? Contact Abbey Palmer