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The Herman’s Garden Program: Spreading the Joy of Gardening

“Children are instinctively fascinated with the hidden abilities of a seed—even one tiny bean becomes an opportunity to educate about the origin of our food,” said Diane Ott Whealy, Seed Savers Exchange co-founder, when writing about the organization’s Herman’s Garden Seed Donation Program in 2014. “I have seen the joy a simple packet of seed can bring to children and adults alike.”

And that joy is alive and well at the Lower Columbia School Gardens (LCSG) in Washington state, which added three new gardens to its community in 2016 alone, thanks in part to seed donations made through the Herman’s Garden program. “Your seeds have without a doubt made a difference,” says Hillary Jensen of LCSG. “They have played a pivotal role in our students’ interactions with our gardens.”

LCSG students express the joy of gardening through artwork.

Seed Savers Exchange has been informally donating surplus seeds to organizations and community gardens around the globe for decades, but in 2008 it officially named its seed donation program in honor of Herman Warsh, a philanthropist who, as Ott Whealy so succinctly put it, “believed in the power of a seed.” Herman and his wife, Maryanne Mott, helped Seed Savers Exchange establish Heritage Farm, its headquarters in Decorah, Iowa.

Each year Seed Savers Exchange donates more than 50,000 packets of seed to more than 600 gardens worldwide through the Herman’s Garden program. For LCSG, those seeds have helped empower a community by connecting kids and families with real food and experiential learning. “More than 4,000 students were engaged in dynamic, hands-on cooking, science, and nutrition activities in our school gardens this year,” says Jensen. “Demand for school gardens is growing nationwide, but implementing a successful and sustainable program requires a combination of expertise, community support, and material and financial support—Seed Savers Exchange’s generous donation of seeds goes such a long way toward our continued growth.”

And that growth has been nothing short of remarkable. Today LCSG operates 17 school gardens—and maintains a grand total of 137,780 square feet of garden space—all of which would likely not have transpired without the help of Herman’s Garden and other seed donation programs.

LCSG students start seeds in spring.

In 2016, says Jensen, LCSG introduced a seed exploration table at its annual Harvest Festival, a celebration that allows every student at seven different elementary schools to celebrate the joy of gardening by making and drinking apple cider, exploring seeds and grains, eating roasted vegetables, and running a hay bale obstacle course. “Students especially love to open pods of Seed Savers Exchange’s Scarlet Runner beans, which we often refer to as ‘magic beans’,” says Jensen. “Having the gift of thoughtfully grown and cultivated seeds from a producer and steward like Seed Savers Exchange has given every one of these students (and many adults!) the opportunity to grow, tend, harvest, cook, taste, and share so many delicious and beautiful varieties of produce.”

This article was originally published on the SSE blog in Fall 2017.

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