(Winchester, Ontario, Canada) – It was top security.
They arrived in a hulking grey Brinks truck escorted by three OPP cruisers, emergency lights flashing and sirens heralding their return. Armed guards descended from the armoured car, cradling their precious cargo sealed in a blue security bag.
Five thousand sunflower seeds which had been carried to the peak of Mount Everest last month returned to Winchester Public School Thursday to great fanfare and an eager reception by 175 wide-eyed students who had sent them to the top of the world’s most famous mountain.
The arrival was the latest stage of a wondrous initiative called the Seeds to Mount Everest Project, the brainchild of Winchester Public School Educational Assistant Jeff Arsenault. Arsenault organized the project with the help of a climbing team from International Mountain Guides (IMG) – a service that offers climbing tours of Everest. The plan was to inspire a love of gardening among the young through a novel event that caught their interest and prompted them to explore the hobby.
The students at Winchester Public will each be given one of the seeds to plant this summer. They will become part of a group of 3,000 students from across North America, including those at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, and in New York State and Nevada , who have volunteered to plant them in their gardens to see if the recent voyage to the top of Everest affects their growth.
Arsenault said seeing the seeds return after IMG climber Justin Merle took them to the summit last month was overwhelming.
“It hasn’t really sunk in for me yet,” he said with a grin. “I’m just dumbfounded. Having been able to see it happen and now having the seeds in hand, it feels like quite an accomplishment.”
That accomplishment is the latest stage in a two-year effort by Arsenault to see the project through. He wanted to send the seeds to the top or Mount Everest as a learning experience for students and to plant a seed of love for gardening – a pastime that is Arsenault’s passion.
Students followed the voyage of the seeds up the mountain through a blog by an IMG climber. As an added incentive to participate, Arsenault contacted Guinness and has applied to have the event certified as a world record for the most sunflower seeds sent to the top of Everest.
Now that the seeds are back, students from Winchester and other places across North America are being asked to plant them and then report back on any changes in the plants that may result from the seeds exposure to high altitudes.
Arsenault hopes the student volunteers will grow the flowers and pass on the resulting seeds- as well as the joy of gardening - to even more students.
Arsenault wants to turn kids on to gardening because he believes it creates a “peace of mind and conscientiousness about life”.
“It teaches them to be nurturing,” he said. “Gardening also teaches kids to aim high. After all, look what a little seed can turn into.”
Grade 6 student Brittany Cooper said that the arrival of the seeds in the Brinks truck was “cool”. She said a seed from Everest is just the thing to get kids involved in gardening, and plans to plant one herself this summer.
“It’s really fun to see what different plants look like and to watch them grow,” she said.
The seeds will be distributed at Winchester Public School, Morrisburg Public School and Kinsmen/Vincent Massey School in Cornwall in the coming days.
See:Seeds Reach Peak of Everest for more information
Jeff ArsenaultEducational AssistantWinchester Public School613-774-2607