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"The history of every Nation is eventually written in the way in which it cares for its soil."
- Franklin D Roosevelt. Signing the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act.

  You are here:  PublicationsMaine Organic Farmer & GardenerSpring 2007EditorialsSustainable Fundraising for Schools   
 Sustainable Fundraising for Schools Minimize

by Jean English
Editor, The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener

In the last MOF&G, I wrote about a farm-to-school-to-community fundraiser at Central Lake Elementary School in Kalkaska, Michigan. (See www.mlui.org/growthmanagement/fullarticle.asp?fileid=17084.) Students visit farms, learn how food is raised, harvested and, sometimes, processed, then help sell that food through their fundraisers. This healthful fundraiser nets Kalkaska students about $1400 and keeps far more money in the community than packaged programs from out-of-town fundraising companies.

The editorial hit a nerve. Readers commented on their distaste for the usual fundraisers and their desire for something better. One asked if MOFGA might design a CSA-type program in which schools would be the communities that support particular farms. We passed the suggestion on to MOFGA's marketing staff.

Here's another option:

Fedco Seeds offers a ‘Sustainable School’ program, developed by Eli Rogosa, with seed-saving workshops, a curriculum and fundraising components. (See www.fedcoseeds.com) Resources are provided for three options:

1. Selling seed packets
2. Buying seed in bulk and repacking through a student-run seed company
3. Growing and saving seeds in your school garden

In the packet option, schools buy popular varieties of seeds in packets, and students resell them.

Most teachers prefer buying seed in bulk and repacking it  as a student mini-business. "It is more work for the pupils and teachers," says Fedco's CR Lawn, "but it offers an integrated curriculum that achieves Maine Learning Results by providing art, math, business and even ethics lessons. In this version, the schools buy the seeds in bulk and repackage seed themselves, possibly making their own order forms or catalogs, designing their own packets, calculating the math, filling packets and selling them.

"The big advantage to the kids and school, besides all the classroom learning units and the huge sense of shared enterprise, is the economic benefit. For example, we sell a 4-ounce package of 'Black' zucchini seed for $5. This means the kids could make 30 one-eighth-ounce packets out of this package (same size as the Fedco small packet), allowing for 6% overpack, sell these for the same price as Fedco, 80 cents each, and gross $24 on their $5 investment. Actually more, because if the school buys at least $100 worth of seed, it gets a 10% volume discount, plus a 5% bulk seed school discount.

"There would be a few expenses: The 30 packets would cost a nickel each, and there might be a few other minor costs, but the realized markup is high – and if the school buys $200, $300, $600 or $1000, it gets even higher volume discounts." Lawn is available by phone to help teachers select varieties. Rogosa, who has an M.S. in science education from Bank Street College and has taught K-12 science and school gardening for 15 years, is available to help with practical ideas to integrate the program through grade-by-grade projects. Contact her at growseed@yahoo.com. Lawn notes that the program requires an enthused teacher willing to make a commitment and put in a fair amount of work, but he is willing to work with interested teachers.

Alice Armen is a parent-volunteer who works with such a project at the 145-student, K-8 Greenfield Center School in western Massachusetts. She couldn't be more enthusiastic about Fedco's seed education program, which meets the parent group's guidelines for "good fundraisers" and nets the little school some $2,000 to $3,000 per year--and that's just the financial gain.  The seed packets "became a vehicle for the kids' art," Armen told The MOF&G. Students make drawings for seed varieties – often several works of art for an individual variety – and one parent tracks each drawing and artist; and scans, reduces and prints the illustrations so that they can be applied to the seed packets. This is laborious, says Armen; and the ink is costly; but a student's comment makes it all worthwhile: "I can't believe that my drawing is on seed packets that people can buy!" says a third-grader.

When kids got tired of drawing the same picture for a given variety every year – say 'Rattlesnake' beans – the parent group came up with "cool" alternative names.  Last year 'Rattlesnake' became 'Basilisk' beans, encouraging new art. The drawings – which are also used on placemats and cards – can be seen at www.centerschool.net.

Armen says that to package seeds, younger children work with larger seeds that they can count, say, to 50, while older students weigh smaller seeds. "There's nothing bad" about the program, says Armen; "It's not static like a lot of fundraisers." In fact, the Greenfield program even inspired "a nice garden at the school, and this year we saved seeds – one way to make it more profitable."

The third option involves integrating seed-saving into a school garden program as a hands-on science program. Rogosa and Lawn coordinate a program called ‘Restoring Our Seed’ that teaches seed saving and plant breeding. The seed curriculum can be downloaded free from www.growseed.org/seedstewards.html. Steve Tanguay piloted the Sustainable School program with Rogosa, which contributed to his award-winning ‘Sustainable Economics’ curriculum at the Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast. (See www.sad34.net/~steve_tanguay/garden.html) Students raise funds by running their own garden business. Trained first as apprentices, then graduating to ‘employee’ status in garden, seed and compost divisions, students learn academic skills in real-world context. At high schools and colleges, students have conducted scientific research in plant breeding and grow food for their cafeterias in partnership with ‘Restoring Our Seed.’ (See www.growseed.org/middlebury.html)

Russ Libby, MOFGA's executive director, says that he started gardening after his fourth-grade teacher gave her students seeds before summer vacation.

The Greenfield Center School Web site quotes Lao-Tzu: "To see things in the seed, that is genius."

Who know where a seed will lead?

    

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