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Title: Heirlooms for Whom? 

Due Date: Fri., March 25, 2022 by 5 p.m. 

Download the Challenge 5 Rubric

Your Challenge: 

Heirloom fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes are the antiques of the plant world. They preserve parts of our heritage and have incredible, and sometimes complicated, histories. Some heirlooms like squash are indigenous to the Americas, while others like okra were brought overseas with enslaved people from West Africa only a few hundred years ago. People began hybridizing plants to industrialize agriculture, creating produce that grew more uniform in shape and size, lasted longer in stores and could survive in more stressful conditions. These hybrid plants were revolutionary for their time, increasing crop yields and feeding more people. However, many people still preferred the crops that they had been growing for years, which often had unique colors and delicious flavors. While stores filled with hybrid produce, farmers and gardeners who favored the old varieties kept growing them and saving the seeds from the best produce, passing them on for generations. Today we call these heirlooms.

Everything from tomatoes to peppers to squash to peas have heirloom varieties. But what are the origins of these fruits and vegetables? Some were cultivated by marginalized cultures and traveled from other countries before the era of industrialization. Indigenous, African and other cultures have greatly influenced the foods that we grow and eat in the United States today, but much of these food histories have been erased. Acknowledging and respecting the true histories of our food is important.

Your challenge is to pick an heirloom food that you find interesting and create artwork of it. Here’s the catch: you must draw the heirloom food as an antique or old object! Imagine an heirloom tomato teapot or an heirloom squash grandfather clock. Your heirloom antique art should resemble a vintage seed packet in style, including the name of the plant on the art piece. It must be no larger than 16 inches by 20 inches. Select pieces will be displayed in Phipps’ CSL Gallery. Accompanying the artwork, you should submit a 500 word description of the heirloom vegetable that you chose and its unique characteristics. Please include where it originated from, what cultures first began growing it, and how it has travelled between cultures. We included a long, but not exhaustive list of resources below to support your research of heirloom foods and food histories. Please utilize these resources!

Entry Requirements:

  • Deliver to the science education coordinator at Phipps in person or via certified mail (electronic submission is not accepted for this challenge):
  • Challenge Entry Form
  • Original artwork of an heirloom as an antique item, no larger than 16” by 20” (Include the school name and the participating students’ names on the back of the artwork)
  • Typed description (500 words) of the heirloom’s history
  • Works Cited
  • If mailing a copy to the Conservatory, please use the address below:


Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
The Fairchild Challenge c/o Jennifer Torrance
One Schenley Park
Pittsburgh, PA 15213


  • Grades Nine – Twelve

    • 11.3.12.C Evaluate sources of food and nutrition information.
    • 10.1.12.C Analyze factors that impact nutritional choices of adults: cost, food preparation (e.g., time, skills), consumer skills (e.g., understanding food labels, evaluating fads), nutritional knowledge changes in nutritional requirements (e.g., age, physical activity level)
    • 4.4.12.A Research and analyze the social, political, economic, and environmental factors that affect agricultural systems.
    • 4.4.10.C Analyze how agricultural sciences and technologies strive to increase efficiency while balancing the needs of society with the conservation of our natural resources.
    • 4.4.10.B Analyze the effects of agriculture on a society’s economy, environment, standard of living, and foreign trade.
    • 7.3.12.A Analyze the human characteristics of places and regions using the following criteria: Population, Culture, Settlement, Economic activities, Political activities
    • 8.1.12.C Analyze, synthesize, and integrate historical data, creating a product that supports and appropriately illustrates inferences and conclusions drawn from research.
    • 15.3.12.I Synthesize information gathered from multiple sources (e.g., digital, print, face to face).
    • CC.8.5.11-12.C Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.
    • 3.1.12.C2 Analyze how genotypic and phenotypic variation can result in adaptations that influence an organism’s success in an environment.
    • 9.1.12.B Recognize, know, use and demonstrate a variety of appropriate arts elements and principles to produce, review and revise original works in the arts.
    • 9.1.12.E Delineate a unifying theme through the production of a work of art that reflects skills in media processes and techniques.
    • 9.1.12.F Analyze works of arts influenced by experiences or historical and cultural events through production, performance or exhibition.
    • 9.2.12.D Analyze a work of art from its historical and cultural perspective.
    • CC.8.6.9-10.A Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.
    • CC.3.5.11-12.I Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible.
    • CC.1.4.9-10.A Write informative/ explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately.
    • CC.1.4.9-10.C Develop and analyze the topic with relevant, well-chosen, and sufficient facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic; include graphics and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
    • CC.1.4.9-10.F Demonstrate a grade-appropriate command of the conventions of standard English grammar, usage, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling.

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