Planting the seeds of knowledge – literally

MARQUETTE – The North Farm at the Michigan State University Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center, the Transition Marquette County Seed Co-op, MQT Growth and the U.P. Food Exchange are combining efforts to “Start Seeds/Save Seeds.”

This program will offer garden support to five schools in the central Upper Peninsula this year.

The North Farm and the TMC Seed Co-op are providing seeds and transplants to participating schools Project partners will make classroom visits and give educational programming on topics like how to save seeds, planning a seed-saving garden and seed heritage.

Bringing healthy food to schools is becoming more at the forefront of the overall goal of keeping – or making – kids healthy.

Various programs bring nutrition experts to certain classrooms to talk about eating healthy foods, often giving samples. Students also travel outside the classroom at times to learn about nutritious foods at places that specialize in them, like the Marquette Food Co-op.

Eating healthy food is one thing, but growing it is another.

However, many schools in the U.P. have started hoop houses and gardens in the past five years, said Abbey Palmer, education coordinator at The North Farm, an incubator farm at the MSU Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center in Chatham.

Using those gardens for saving seeds also allows for the study of plant genetics, the history of the most common food plants and starting a conversation about the food system, she said.

That goal continues. The Start Seeds/Save Seeds program was launched in 2015 to give technical assistance and experiential learning opportunities around farming to area schools.

Palmer said the schools for this year’s program will be selected in mid-March.

She acknowledged collecting seeds from plants is a little more demanding than just growing them.

“One, you have to let a plant grow to maturity to save seeds,” Palmer said.

That’s why the program targets schools that already have hoop houses, she noted.

Plants also have to remain healthy until seed-saving time, and that’s when disease pressure tends to set in, she said.

“You have to have really good soil to maintain the plants so you can save seeds from it,” Palmer said.

Palmer said she’d liked to get science teachers excited about Start Seeds/Save Seeds, connecting it to a botany curriculum, for instance. They even could conduct an experiment, such as cross-pollinating plants for a new squash variety.

Miriah Redmond is co-founder of MQT Growth, a nonprofit whose goal is to increase the number of food-producing green spaces in Marquette. It maintains the Graveraet hoop house in the summer.

“At Graveraet, kids are learning how to grow food, which is an empowering skill set,” Redmond said n a news release.

The TMC Seed Co-op gets seeds from the Sustainable Seed Co., based in Chico, California, whose mission, according to its website, sustainableseedco.com, is “Changing the World, One Seed at a Time.” It offers only certified organic and non-GMO seeds. GMO stands for genetically modified organisms.

Ray Bush of Ishpeming, a local seed expert, said at a co-op seed-packing session in February: “They’re selected to be able to be grown in our growing season without having to start in March.”

The seed co-op’s Mike Riesterer said in a news release that 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,” Riesterer said. “They start to look at food differently – and they’re more likely to eat a vegetable that they grew themselves.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.