If you’ve ever wanted to do something to help others, now is your chance.
In 2011, the Land O’Lakes Foundation partnered with six FFA chapters in five states to create community gardens where members grew, harvested and donated fresh produce to local food pantries. Together, they harvested more than 25,000 servings of produce to help families in need, and the Land O’Lakes Foundation hopes to at least double the number of gardens and the amount harvested in 2012.
“FFA involvement in our project has been fantastic,” says Lydia Botham, director of the Land O’Lakes Foundation. “The leaders and students are who really make the garden program happen. Despite weather challenges that included drought, hurricanes and floods, the students have worked extremely hard and persevered. They are out planting, weeding, harvesting and delivering the produce to their local food pantries.”
The first six community gardens were located in Arden Hills, Minn.; Bangor, Wis.; Houston, Miss.; Imperial, Neb.; Pana, Ill.; and Ulen, Minn. Botham says Land O’Lakes enlisted FFA chapters to help oversee the gardens because of FFA’s excellent reputation.
“Many of our employees and farm owners have been involved in FFA, and we know many of our future employees will have a strong connection with FFA as well,” Botham says. “FFA is a great organization, and taking advantage of their expertise in agriculture made a lot of sense in helping ensure our community garden project was successful.”
The Houston, Miss. garden was grown by 10 members of the local FFA chapter at Nettleton High School and their local cooperative. They produced more than 500 pounds of peas and corn and donated it to the Salvation Army for use in their soup kitchen and food pantry.
“The project was a great opportunity for the students to apply skills learned in our agriculture courses and to promote our FFA chapter in the community,” says Jesse Cornelius, agriculture teacher at Nettleton High School. “But most important was the opportunity to demonstrate for the students the value of helping others – a great opportunity to really get to know the students and see them realize that life is not just about themselves.”
The Bangor, Wis. garden was grown by six members of the Bangor FFA chapter and their local cooperative. They grew more than 5,000 pounds of potatoes, cucumbers, leaf lettuce, onions, radishes, tomatoes, small pumpkins and sweet corn, and donated it to the WAFER Food Pantry.
“This project was extremely successful, thanks to the students’ hard work and dedication,” says Jenelle Thorman, agriculture instructor and FFA advisor at Bangor High School. “They worked hard to keep the weeds down, tilled between the rows and strategically planned their planting schedule so the vegetable crops would be ready for harvest at various times. During the early fall, we were even able to donate some fresh vegetables to our school lunch program.”
Both the Nettleton and Bangor FFA chapters were featured in segments on their local TV news, and the Bangor chapter had a congressman visit their garden.
“It was an awesome experience for the students to take him on a tour of their garden and explain what we had accomplished,” Thorman says.
Participating students were also able to meet and work with agronomists and other agriculture officials from their respective communities.
“It is a great way for these young adults to work on their communication skills and their time management,” Thorman says. “This project provides a tremendous opportunity to promote FFA and all of its benefits to others in your school district, community members and government representatives. It is a learning experience that allows students to participate in a community service project where they know they are helping others in need.”
– Jessica Mozo