FFA Garden Flourishes

Growing Local Food Helps Teach a Bigger Lesson

Abby Lindsey (left) and Logan Stufflebeam helped weed, mulch and harvest fresh produce in the Nevada, Iowa FFA garden this past summer. The high school sophomores attended the 2015 National FFA Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, last week along with advisor Kevin Cooper and several other chapter members. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Cooper/Nevada FFA Chapter)

FFA Garden Flourishes

Growing Local Food Helps Teach a Bigger Lesson

Iowa FFA advisor teaches his students how to grow food locally and also serve their school.

By Virginia H. Harris

Progressive Farmer Associate Editor

Louisville, Ky. (DTN) -- At Nevada High School in Nevada, Iowa, Kevin Cooper’s class has grown test plots covering 30 acres of corn and soybeans for years. It’s just part of the curriculum.

Another part of the vocational agriculture teacher’s plant science curriculum has been potting tomato plants every March; when school ends, the potted plants are given to teachers or taken home by students. The timing didn’t work for the class to harvest the tomatoes together.

However, that changed this year. The Nevada FFA chapter received a $2,000 grant from Farm Credit Services, which allowed the chapter to purchase a tiller and seeds for a garden. They were able to grow tomatoes, onions, radishes, carrots and potatoes. In addition, this fall the chapter planted lettuce and turnips for winter crops. Also this fall, the chapter won third and fifth places at the state fair for their tomatoes and sold $200 worth of tomatoes from five plants.

“The students were blown away by that,” Cooper told DTN last week. “I said, ‘Yeah, that’s how much you can make in a little area!’”

A neighboring row crop farmer hosted the students on his farm to teach them about the watermelon production he does on several acres. The students harvested nearly 600 watermelons from the farm, which eventually went into meals in the high school’s cafeteria or to kitchen tables of students’ homes.

HELPS FEED THE STUDENTS

That’s another benefit of Nevada High School’s FFA garden. The lessons weren’t all for classroom benefits. The produce eventually went into meals at the Nevada High School cafeteria, saving the school $300 to $400 in produce costs for each lunch meal that used the available produce.

Abby Lindsey, a sophomore at Nevada High School, told DTN the experience provided her better insight into how produce and vegetables are grown. Other students mentioned the source of the food as well, she said. “I think they appreciate it a little more because they know where it’s coming from, instead of what’s usually served,” Lindsey added.

Lindsey and several other FFA chapter members committed to tend the garden during the summer to maintain the quality of the produce and understand the work involved in managing vegetable crops.

Logan Stufflebeam, a sophomore at Nevada, says the project gave her pride in the food served at her school, because she learned firsthand the work it takes to grow it. Along with her fellow chapter members, Stufflebeam witnessed the journey of each vegetable from seed to plate.

“I can see myself having my own garden, because I know what goes into it now,” Stufflebeam said.

Fellow Nevada students struck up conversation about the project with the chapter members on days the cafeteria served the chapter’s produce. Those conversations covered everything from nutrition to production practices to what FFA is all about, according to Lindsey and Stufflebeam.

Cooper said this type of project is timely and pertinent for his students and the agriculture industry. The current crop of farmers is a “graying population,” he pointed out, while consumers continue to seek information from the source about how their food is produced.

Cooper wanted his students to see the viability of production agriculture as a career and noted the curriculum will eventually cover the financial realities and economic sustainability of local vegetable production.

Future plans for the FFA garden include construction, currently underway, of a 3,200-square-foot greenhouse with 14-feet-tall side walls. The greenhouse will allow Cooper to hold horticulture classes all year long and grow produce to supplement the school cafeteria throughout the year.

(ES/BAS)