Plant Breeding and Genetics

In seventh grade, students learn about the work of the 19th century Augustinian friar Gregor Mendel, a monk who studied patterns of inheritance in pea plants. The patterns described by Mendel became the basis for the modern science of genetics.

Gregor Mendel (left) and seventh graders (right) making crosses between different varieties of Pisum sativum.

Well we like reading about things like that but we'd always rather try it ourselves. We know where the stamens and the stigmas are, so why not breed our own plant varieties?? In fact, all seed savers are plant breeders, whether they realize it or not, because when we choose to save seeds from one plant or another, we participate in the ancient art of artificial selection. Seventh grade life science students are now working on several breeding projects with peas, broccoli, dahlias, calendula and more, and you can help! The easy part is mixing up the genes, the hard part is growing out enough plants to begin selecting useful ones. We imagine a sort of open source model for plant breeding where selection happens in a thousand back yard gardens, elementary school raised beds and local small farms. This year we are offering experimental "gene pools" created by crossing several varieties. You can grow them yourself, make your own selections, and then share your results with us! Stay tuned for student tutorials on seed saving and genetics coming soon!

For now you can purchase our seeds (including some experiments) at the Belfast Coop or come see us at MOFGAs annual seed and scion exchange. We will have seeds and directions for selecting and saving your own.