2018-10-11 / Opinions

Seed saving connected to academic content and world issues

VIEW from Lansing
By Kristine Hahn

Seed saving is a fun garden activity that can easily connect to larger academic content and current events

MSU Extension Community Food Systems Educator, Community Food Systems - Urban Community Education and Development & Sustainable Natural Resources Management and Education

EAST LANSING - Saving seeds is a great activity to do in the fall school garden and has a huge potential to connect to a wide variety of academic content in your classroom.

First and foremost, collecting seeds introduces students to the life cycle of plants for all ages. For the younger students there are counting and sorting exercises, and for the upper elementary students, seed saving can be connected to plant science reproduction, basic genetics and biodiversity.

KidsGardening.org has a fun Save Your Seeds Garden Activity that is good for students of all ages. It also contains a Seed Saving chart listing which crops are easy to save seeds from and how to process them. This handy chart has a simple explanation of hybrid and open pollinated varieties. Hybrids and open pollination are important concepts linked directly to genetics. A good explanation of hybrid vs. open pollinated vs. heirloom plants can also be found in an article at this link by the Center for Urban Agriculture.

More advanced concepts such as seed banks, seed libraries and agrobiodiversity can be covered directly in relation to seed saving activities. These concepts help link not just the “how” of seed saving, but the “why” it is important to save seeds. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) program of the United Nations, agrobiodiversity is disappearing and the scale of the loss is extensive. An example of this loss is that today 75 percent of the world’s food is generated from only 12 plants and five animal species.

This plant genetic diversity has been lost as farmers and gardeners worldwide have left their multiple local varieties for genetically uniform, high-yielding varieties. This dependence on a few varieties puts the food system at risk. Genetic diversity is a cornerstone to pest and disease resistance.

A fairly recent example of the risk of dependence on one food crop is the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s when a fungal disease wiped out the potato crop in Ireland for many years leading to mass starvation, and, ultimately mass emigration. A similar situation is currently brewing with the Cavendish banana monoculture grown worldwide that is threatened with a fungal disease. These examples connect to both genetics and history.

Genetic variety is also key to adapting to changing environmental conditions such as climate change.

So, while seed saving may seem to be a simple classroom exercise, it clearly is connected to much larger academic subjects and current world issues that our students need context about.

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