Children harvesting vegetables from the garden and preparing them in the kitchen.
The variety of situations encountered in this process is the perfect stimulus for intellectual curiosity.
The knowledge gained from these experiences nurtures the strength to survive and the ability to stay calm even in emergencies when food is unavailable.

These children have never touched the soil, and some may run at the sight of the smallest insect, but their view of living things changes as the plants grow. Raising vegetables, they learn about the importance of life and eating.
Rie Fukumoto
Senior project specialist, the University of Tokyo Center for Advanced Science and Technology

The experience of nurturing
Can be a powerful nurture of learning


The process of raising vegetables from seed and harvesting and cooking the results can seem perfectly ordinary, but a surprising number of children have never had this experience. Life Seed Labo focuses on giving these children the chance to take a closer look at eating, the basis of life. For children who might have trouble sitting at a desk in front of a textbook, the experience of touching the soil and gripping a knife expands their curiosity and nurtures their ability to learn.
This requires no textbooks. If children have questions about the vegetables they’re raising, or want to keep a record of their observations, tablets are used.
Everything they encounter, in the field or in the kitchen, is a target for new learning.
“During one harvest, a child was attempting to pull up some lettuce when he spotted an insect that was busily eating one of the leaves. The child couldn’t take his eyes away. He didn’t get much work done, but using his tablet, he could observe to his heart’s content just how the insect eats and try to understand the underlying ecology.”
By coming face-to-face with the natural world, which can’t be explained simply through words and pictures, children can take their fill of knowledge in whatever direction their interests and curiosity leads them. That learning is not restricted to science.
Making soy milk requires soy beans.
So, how many soy beans does it take to make one glass of soy milk?
“Let’s try counting to see how much 1,000 soy beans come to.”
“A thousand soy beans?!”
The children let out a cry at the sight of so many soy beans. Someone suggested they start by carefully counting how many soy beans would fit in a small box, then figure out how many boxes would come to 1,000 soy beans.
“I never understood why we need multiplication, but now I get it,” said one child.
All of a sudden, boring mathematics started to get interesting, and the children began earnestly counting soy beans.
Making pizza, they learned the principles of fermentation, and how preserving foods makes it impossible for bacteria to survive. They also learned how methods for preserving foods for the winter, when food was scarce, evolved into modern canning and freeze drying technologies, and how test versions of preserved foods of the future are eaten by astronauts in outer space. The number of stories surrounding food is vast.



What’s even more gratifying is when the vegetables are harvested. At the last party for Life Seed Labo, the children think about how to season and arrange the food to best express how good the vegetables they’ve raised taste, and everyone works together to prepare and enjoy them.

The desire to eat Even when there’s no food.


Another part of this effort is thinking about eating as part of sustaining life.
Are we capable of working our way out of an earthquake, flood or other plight even when it’s left us with nothing to eat?
“Our lives provide us with every convenience, but leave us few opportunities to think consciously about what to do in an emergency. In the 1995 Hanshin-Awaji earthquake, and in the Great East Japan earthquake of 2011, food became the most important issue for victims of these disasters.
What became clear from these experiences was that, in the long-term process of recovery, people need food both to sustain life and to provide physical and emotional strength for the future.”
Rie Fukumoto works with children in thinking about “Bosai” food or food that both sustains life and provides physical and emotional sustenance.
“Bosai” (from the word for “disaster prevention”) foods are a combination of emergency provisions such as instant noodles and alpha rice (a kind of preserved rice); preserved foods such as dry goods and seasonings, as well as foods prepared ahead of time by drying or pickling; and vegetables, to be grown from seed.
“In a disaster where homes are destroyed and the lives of family members lost, the sorrow can be crushing for anyone. In the midst of such chaos, no one has the chance for a proper meal. But people can’t survive on sorrow alone—they need to eat to live. Suppose you were to plant a seed?
Wouldn’t you wonder if it had sprouted the next day? And if it had, a feeling of joy might surface along with it. Who wouldn’t be happy to see a tiny seed grow larger, flower and bear fruit?”
The children hang on Ms. Fukumoto’s every word.
“Preparing for ‘just in case’ means reexamining our own everyday lives. It can be an opportunity to transform our lives into something richer.”

Text/ JQR editorial department

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