Planting a Seed

heirloom-tomato-on-vineWith so many Big Questions before us, it’s natural to look for answers that are equally grand in scale. Sometimes, however, the universal can be found in the particular. I recently discovered this kind of unassuming wisdom at Montpelier High School.

Remarkable things are happening at MHS–innovations that are hard to miss, including a student-designed farm-scale greenhouse, fully integrated into the Biology program. But it wasn’t the student-grown salad greens or student-installed solar panels that caught my eye. It was something much smaller…

– Students grow a variety of heirloom vegetables as a part of their Biology program (a class which every student takes), as well as an advanced Environmental Systems class. This experience connects to their learning about genes and inheritance, as they save seeds from their plants and study their variation.

– An annual heirloom plant sale helps defray costs.


– Saved seeds are eventually dried, logged, and brought to the library. There, sitting prominently behind the circulation desk, is an old, upcycled card catalog unit. Today, it houses generations of student-conserved heirloom seeds.


– Families, community-members–anyone–can come to the library, “check out” a baby-food-jar of students’ seeds, and use them to propagate the unique genetic heritage of any of the dozens of unique vegetable varieties.

Those who “check out” this unique library resource, then, have the responsibility to do two things: First, community members must share the story of their plants; these stories are collected, compiled, and curated by students. Second, after a certain number of plants have been grown, the borrower collects his/her seeds and returns them to the students’ seed bank.


– Over time, the seeds of heirloom varietals are conserved; students’ research is shared with a natural audience, and tailored each year to respond to other growers’ observations; stories are collected and shared; and the collection of seeds grows. By design, students are stewards of our cultural and agricultural heritage.

So much of this project resonates with the vision for the Partnership for Change that one might instinctively want to replicate it in Burlington/Winooski. While we certainly could, I also wonder if it could inspire different endeavors.

The energy, authenticity, and sustainability of the MHS Seed Bank has everything to do with the fact that it grew, organically, from the culture, values, and strengths of MHS. Consider what makes Burlington and Winooski unique… What might a similar initiative look like if it grew from the soil of our own culture, values, and strengths?

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