Savvy Seed Caretakers

By Eve Pranis

"My third graders felt very important when we received seed from the Kids in Bloom Seed Guardian Program," reports Indianapolis, IN, teacher Jane LaMar. The class was charged with planting and tending black beans, birdhouse gourds, strawberry popcorn, and other "heirloom" plants so the seeds could, in turn, be passed on to other gardeners.

"Their connection with these special seeds inspired students to begin to recognize the historical significance of these plants," notes Jane. For instance, one student who had been doing a report on Thomas Jefferson was intrigued by the variety labeled "The Jefferson Tomato," and imagined what must have taken place during the many years the seeds were saved and replanted. "Some students compared the heirloom tomato plants they were raising with standard hybrid tomatoes," reports parent volunteer Sue Michaels. "Their discovery that the hybrid tomato plants were early and uniform, while the heritage tomatoes 'took their time' prompted a discussion of why people might value a diversity of features in plants and foods," she adds.

Desperately Seeking Diversity

For centuries, farmers and gardeners repeatedly saved and replanted seeds from their healthiest plants and most flavorful fruits and vegetables. In more recent decades, scientists have learned to breed and engineer crops that can grow vigorously and with uniformity, making the plants better adapted for large-scale agriculture, processing, and transporting. But at what cost to flavor and to cultural and ecological diversity? Although there are benefits to these agricultural advances, many people are concerned that we have become reliant on too few species of crops and on large seed companies, and believe we are losing the rich storehouse of genetic information available from naturally evolved plants. More and more, individuals and organizations are collecting and preserving heirloom seed varieties that have been saved and passed down through many generations. Kids are natural seed guardians. By growing such varieties and exploring their colorful living histories and the traditions they represent, young gardeners can help preserve and appreciate life's diversity and learn about history firsthand.

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