Nova Scotia students plant tomato seeds from space to raise money for global hunger

Monday, November 27, 2017

Students at River Hebert District School learn to build garden boxes as part of a school project that planted tomato seeds from space and raised money for ending global hunger.

While most Canadian students were enjoying their summer off school, one 13-year-old student from River Hebert, Nova Scotia was busy watering a garden that he and his classmates had built, ensuring it wasn’t neglected over the break.

“Between filling the jugs and going back and forth to water the plants, it took about 15 minutes to a half hour each time,” says Spencer Ackroyd, a grade seven student at River Hebert District School.

“A garden is a lot harder than I originally anticipated,” says Ackroyd, adding that his 9-year-old sister Sofia helped him water the vegetables.

“It was a lot more effort – I thought gardens just had plants and that they grew, and it’s just a wee bit more,” he says. “But it was really fun.”

We had a million tomatoes. They were out of this world!

And it wasn’t just any garden – it was a garden that grew tomatoes using seeds that have been exposed to outer space, donated by the Canadian Space Agency through its Tomatosphere project.

Through the project, classrooms are provided with tomato seeds from outer space and a test set of regular seeds. The students measure and compare the two as they grow. The aim of the program, according to the Tomatosphere website, is to help students learn about science, space exploration, agriculture and nutrition.

Grades five and six students planted the tomatoes in class using techniques that an astronaut would use. After a few weeks, they transplanted the seedlings in the garden built by their classmates.

Along with the tomato seeds from space, the students grew cucumbers, beans, corn and other vegetables, all to raise money for ending global hunger.

“We had a million tomatoes, oh my gosh, I’m not even exaggerating,” says Pam Harrison, a member of the school’s advisory council. “They were out of this world!”

And to top it off, the proceeds from the sale of the produce will be donated to help people experiencing hunger through Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

The students grew cucumbers, beans, corn and other vegetables as well. The tomatoes, however, were the only ones with seeds from outer space.

“It was a pretty big project that had almost a third of the school involved at some point,” says Harrison.

She notes that a group of students from grade five and six helped plant the vegetables, while a group of twelfth graders processed the vegetables to make relish and salsa.

Through various events, including a school reunion of past River Hebert District School grads, students sold the vegetables, relish and salsa, raising $500 altogether. Thanks to a special grant the school received from Scotiabank, the money will be matched dollar for dollar, totaling $1,000.

Spencer Ackroyd (fifth from the right) and his classmates presented a $1,000 cheque to Canadian Foodgrains Bank for its work in ending global hunger.

It was Harrison’s idea to create the garden and raise money for the Foodgrains Bank after she heard about the organization through her church, Visions United in New Brunswick.

“I had eight acres of land around the school, and I thought it’d be a great way for the students to learn about the Foodgrains Bank while learning about growing food as well,” says Harrison, who lives in River Hebert but attends the church in New Brunswick.

“I think by getting the school involved we are planting the seeds to another generation that will also know there’s something they can do to help people in other countries.”

She also thought it’d be a good way for the church and the school to work together in support of global hunger, with the church helping sell the vegetables and canned food at various events.

When Harrison first brought the idea to the school, it was met with enthusiasm from the principal and many staff members, including the school librarian Matthew Cole.

The students sold the canned food at various events in the community, including a River Hebert District School reunion.

For Cole, gardening is a constant learning experience and served as a way for the students to apply concepts from the classroom, like nutrition studies.

I’m really hopeful the students can see how great the wealth is in their own backyard.

“River Hebert is a community that no longer has a grocery store in it,” explains Cole. “One of my original goals when starting a garden was to bring food security and the knowledge about growing food back to the students.”

Having them donate the proceeds to the Foodgrains Bank added more benefits to the learning experience.

“In becoming self-sufficient and growing their own food, they are also helping others,” says Cole. “I’m really hopeful the students can see how great the wealth is in their own backyard.”

And whether it’s your neighbour in your community or your neighbour overseas, for 13-year-old Ackroyd, it’s important to help.

“It just feels like the kind of thing to do,” says Ackroyd. “If you knew someone who needed help you would help them, so why not help someone even if you don’t know them?”

Shaylyn McMahon, Communications Assistant