Engaging Youth in Citizen Science
A citizen science approach to preserving biodiversity and connecting with community.
Vegetable varieties investigation (Vvi) is a companion program to Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners (VVfG). It is a unique citizen science program designed to engage youth in horticulture. Participants interview gardeners about their opinions on vegetable varieties, and submit their findings to an online database that serves as a nation-wide online library of vegetable variety data. Contributing to this library supports science research and promotes biodiversity for healthy ecosystems, including our farms and gardens. Findings reported by Vvi youth participants are used by gardeners, plant breeders, and horticulture researchers involved with Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners, a web forum that provides an avenue for gardeners to share their knowledge with a much wider community.
Anyone Can Contribute
- Review and download the complete Vegetable varieties investigation (Vvi) Toolkit (pdf)
- Conduct the Vegetable varieties investigation
- Submit data to http://vegvariety.cce.cornell.edu
Why participate in Vvi?
Youth will gain direct experience in:
- science research
- data collection
- interview skills
- sharing findings
- connecting with others in their community
- supporting biodiversity
“What vegetable varieties will grow best in my garden?” Gardeners have been asking this question for centuries. By conducting the Vegetable Varieties Investigation with youth, you will help uncover some answers for today’s gardeners and scientists, while providing a rich learning experience for your students. You will also contribute to an online library of gardeners’ vegetable variety experiences which will serve as a tool for preserving knowledge and promoting biodiversity.
Preserving Knowledge and Promoting Biodiversity
Few gardeners grow everything, but collectively gardeners across the world grow hundreds of crops and thousands and thousands of specific varieties. The knowledge gardeners have about vegetable varieties is astonishing, and plays a critical role in preserving biodiversity. Through the Vegetable Varieties Investigation, youth use the interview process to gather gardeners’ opinions about specific vegetable varieties they have grown. Participants learn about traits of specific varieties of vegetables and find out why gardeners grow some varieties and avoid others.
Variety: “The Spice of Life”
There are many different vegetable species, from asparagus and arugula to tomatoes and turnips, available for growing in home and community gardens. A variety is a kind or form of a given species or crop. For example, Jersey Knight and Martha Washington are varieties of asparagus, and Sungold and Brandywine are varieties of tomato. While varieties of a particular crop species share many common characteristics, each has slightly different features. These characteristics influence taste, yield, appearance, and also adaptability to environmental conditions like heat and moisture, and resistance to disease and pests. Many gardeners pay careful attention to the varieties of vegetables they grow because of successes or difficulties they’ve had in the past with specific varieties or personal preference for a particular taste or appearance.
By sharing your findings via the Vegetable Varieties Investigation website, you and your students will contribute to an online library of vegetable varieties reviews that:
- assists scientists with understanding traits of specific vegetable varieties and how they perform in various regions and garden settings
- helps gardeners select appropriate varieties for specific growing conditions and desired outcomes
- compiles the experiences of gardeners from many locations and backgrounds
- serves as a tool for promoting biodiversity
The Vvi Toolkit is meant to serve as a guide for your unique Vvi program. Tailor the toolkit to your specific needs, resources, and interests by modifying materials accordingly.
In the downloadable version of the Vvi Toolkit (pdf) you will find:
- Is Vvi a good fit FAQs: See if Vvi is right for you and your youth audience. (Also available here as separate pdf)
- Learning Standards and Assessment (pdf) Learn more about how Vvi meets learning standards and engages students as citizen scientists. (Also available here as separate pdf)
- Time Commitment: See what kind of time you can expect to invest in your Vvi program.
- Advance Coordination: Find out what planning is needed to lay the foundation for conducting Vvi.
- Orienting Youth: Provide youth with the skills they will need to effectively carry out Vvi. This section contains links to activity topics including Biodiversity, Interview Skills, and Vegetable Varieties–everything you need to help prepare youth to collect quality data.
- Field Work: Interview Day: See what you and your students can expect when you meet the gardeners. Includes links to all forms and materials required to collect and record data.
- Report Data: A critical component of Vvi is sharing the data you collect online. Find out how.
- Follow-up and Evaluation: Pursue student interests sparked by interviews, and gather feedback from all participants on the success of your Vvi program.
Here you’ll find descriptions of and links to all of the activities created for use with Vvi.
You Be the Judge (pdf): Students role play gardeners as they taste, assess yield, and read ease/reliability statements based on various blueberry varieties. This activity can be adapted to other vegetables and fruit.
Produce Sort (pdf): Using a number of crops and varieties within a single crop, students will sort produce to understand crop, type, and variety characteristics.
Defining Biodiversity (pdf): As a group, participants will build a working definition of biodiversity.
Fact of Fiction (pdf): Working in small groups, students explore the statement: “Without biodiversity, none of our food could be produced.”
Biodiversity Collage (pdf): Students clip from magazines images that represent biodiversity to them. In addition to including images of nature and wilderness, encourage students to stretch – looking for signs of biodiversity in human and artificial environments.
A Favorite Meal (pdf): Students describe their favorite meal and name ways biodiversity played a role in getting that meal to their plate.
Vegetable Varieties Matching Game (pdf):Participants are challenged to match a vegetable variety image to its name. Emphasis is on reasoning and whimsy, rather than correct matching.
Catalog Writers (pdf): Students view a selection of photos of vegetable varieties. They will choose one to write a description of and name, with the aim of capturing customers’ attention. Students are encouraged to use their imaginations as well as anything they already know about how things grow to accomplish the task.
Plants in Our Daily Lives (pdf): Students examine their surroundings for items and determine whether each item was derived from plants in some way.
Veggie Vote (pdf): Students open an envelope with profiles of three different varieties of a particular crop (either lettuce or beets). They are given a scenario that requires them to select only one variety of the crop to grow. Based on the information they have for each of the candidates, which “candidate” will they vote for and why? Can students defend their choice well, and convince others to also “vote” for their candidate?
Interview Skill-Building and 3 Steps to a Great Interview (pdf): Students will learn interviewing skills in four parts; by 1. practice interviewing and being interviewed by a partner, 2. review ‘Postive Interviewing Skills’, 3. observe both effective and ineffective techniques modeled by an interview with the group leader, and 3. incorporate new skills into another practice interview.
Want to share Vvi with other educators in your community? Click here for a sample workshop plan (pdf).
YouthLearn: Explore resources in digital story-telling, inquiry-based learning and youth media training.
Inquiry-Based Learning: How to develop an inquiry-based project.
The Pair-Share Technique: Incorporate collaborative learning.
American Museum of Natural History Center for Biodiversity and Conservation: Information on biodiversity and our food supply.
International Development Research Center: Facts and figures on food and biodiversity.
Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity: The operational body of the protection of food biodiversity.
Sustainable Table: Explore why biodiversity is important.
Garden Mosaics: Connecting plants and elders to investigate the mosaic of plants, people and cultures in gardens.
In addition to all the youth interviewers who are essential to the success of this project, the team that helped bring this project together includes:
Cornell Cooperative Extension
Leigh MacDonald-Rizzo, Ithaca Children’s Garden Education Director
Cornell Garden-Based Learning, Horticulture
Erin Marteal, Assistant for Project Planning and Development
Angela McGregor Hedstrom, Assistant for Project Development
Tom Jahn, Web Application Developer
Lori Brewer, Project Coordinator
Department of Natural Resources
Marianne Krasney, Project Advisor and Principle Investigator of Garden Mosaics
Keith Tidball, Project Advisor and National Program Leader of Garden Mosaics
This material is based upon work supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U. S. Department of Defense under Award No. 2009-48667-05833. Developed in partnership with Purdue University and Cornell University.