(Posted Aug. 5, 2016)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Southeastern High School’s FFA chapter is sharing the fruits and vegetables of their labor with people in need.
On Aug. 2, members delivered over 250 pounds of sweet corn, squash, cucumbers and melons to the Manna Food Pantry at First Presbyterian Church in South Charleston. In a few weeks, they will make another delivery featuring tomatoes and green peppers.
The produce is the result of a community garden created, planted and tended by students and sponsored by Land O’ Lakes Foundation and Trupointe Cooperative.
“Back in December, we got an offer from Land O’ Lakes to be part of their Answer Plot community garden project,” said Darrick Riggs, Southeastern FFA advisor. “Being a school as small as ours, I wondered if we’d have enough kids available to pitch in during the summer. I took the idea to the kids. They were optimistic we could pull it off, and we did. I think it went very well.”
Land O’ Lakes provided the land—part of their test plot along Route 41, two miles southeast of the Clark County Fairgrounds. The foundation also provided a $1,200 grant, seeds, garden tools and garden gloves.
“They told us we could use the grant money however we liked. We chose to put $300 toward the garden; our biggest expense was topsoil for the raised beds. The rest we put in our FFA account to use toward things like sending students to camp and conventions and to offset contest costs,” Riggs said.
Students spent the winter and spring planning the garden, plotting it out on graph paper, researching the types of plants they wanted to grow, and starting seedlings. They built four 4×8-foot raised garden bed frames using lumber from an old deck Riggs tore out at his home.
“Land O’ Lakes planted two rows of sweet corn for us. We planted everything else out in the garden the first week of June,” Riggs said. “The challenge was that the first three weeks of June were exceptionally dry, and we had no water source out there.”
Some of the plants didn’t make it, but enough did to yield plenty of produce for the food pantry. In addition to the raised beds and corn, students filled a 25×35-foot space with assorted plants. They signed up in groups of two to four to tend to the garden a week at a time. In total, 12 students helped with the project over the course of the summer.
“Some are using it as community service hours for FFA awards. Some are using it for their college applications,” Riggs said.
Riggs hopes Land O’ Lakes asks Southeastern to continue the garden next year. If so, he says rain barrels or a large water storage tank are in his chapter’s plans for the garden, as well as the possibility of more raised beds.
Land O’ Lakes Foundation partners with its WinField master agronomists, member cooperatives, and the National FFA to present the Answer Plot community garden program. This year, Southeastern FFA’s garden is one of 27 Answer Plot gardens in 13 states.