By Laura Budde, FoodCorps Fellow in Maine
After moving to Maine over a year ago for FoodCorps, I frequently found myself thinking: “People here know how to live, and they know how to live darn well.” I kept telling myself that if the apocalypse ever does come, let it come the third week of September and let me be at Common Ground Fair (an annual celebration of Maine agriculture).
At the recent Farmington Seed Savers Conference, C.R. Lawn, founder of seed cooperative Fedco Seeds, gave his address and a woman stood to say, “I think we’re preaching to the choir—and it’s great to have a choir. But how can we bring in the teenagers? How can we transfer this energy to our youth?”
And since learning to embrace the firecracker personality of many Maine senior citizens, I’ve tried my best to soak up as much of their knowledge as I can. Today, nothing fills me up better than the company of Maine elders and a heated conversation about saving seed. As the current FoodCorps Fellow for Maine, I wanted to focus my project on spreading the Mainer “good life” to their next generation.
The transfer of knowledge about growing and cooking food has seen some generational gaps. FoodCorps is one attempt to address these gaps. FoodCorps service members educate today’s youth about where their food comes from, how it grows, and most importantly, why we should respect the land and people that produce the food we eat. Teaching children about healthy food through seed saving hits all of the school subjects; it incorporates history, geography, biology, anatomy, genetics, mathematics, you name it. It is a way, perhaps the way, to connect food to every aspect of childrens’ lives.
It’s common for seed savers to be independent stubborn folks. They refuse to depend on ordering seed year after year, a fate guaranteed for anyone growing hybrid varieties (the seed of which will produce unpredictable traits, or in some cases, are sterile altogether). Instead, seed savers select and grow open pollinated heirloom varieties, plants that are not only able to do the reproductive dance, but also come with unique history, appearance, and taste. Seed savers’ regular routine is to patiently allow some of these plants to complete the lifecycle, usually growing past the harvest date, and collect the ever-anticipated seed for use next season. Here in Maine, this practice remains a shared art among the farming and gardening community.
I’m partnering with seed-saving expert and lifelong teacher Neil Lash at Medowmak Valley High School in Waldoboro, Maine. Lash has been working with his students over the past two decades to create what is known as the Heirloom Seed Project (HSP), or the nation’s largest student-driven seed bank— with over 300 varieties of tomatoes alone. Together, we are coordinating the statewide dispersal of HSP seed through our 10 FoodCorps service members in Maine. They will be teaching students how to save various seed in their school gardens this upcoming season. Maine is the perfect setting to stage this pilot project, due to the availability of other resources like Will Bonsall of the Scatterseed Project and the worker-owned seed company Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
Learning how to save seed is learning our collective ancestry as a state, as a country, and as human beings. It is the very base of self-sufficiency and community sustainability. In today’s world of climate change, questionable food production practices, and a surge of food-related epidemics, there is nothing more important than teaching children how to grow healthy food year after year.
To learn more about this project and seed saving in Maine, contact Laura at laura.budde at foodcorps.org
FoodCorps is a nationwide team of passionate leaders who work to connect kids to real food. As a “Seed Funder,” Annie’s is enabling FoodCorps Fellows to support, guide, and mentor service members who then go out to teach kids about what healthy food is and where it comes from, build and tend school gardens, and bring high-quality local food into public school cafeterias.