Grant funds MHS learning garden

Published 10:20 am Friday, May 11, 2018

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

Maplesville High School FFA has been awarded a $3,800 grant from Tractor Supply and National FFA Foundation for agriculture education.

The funds will be used to create a raised bed garden where high school juniors and seniors will teach early elementary students about gardening and plants.

“This is going to be a neat project,” agriculture teacher Joe Dennis said. “We are excited about this.”

The grant is a part of the Grants for Growing program.

“We had actually gotten a small grant before, but this is the largest that we’ve ever got,” Dennis said.

FFA student officers had chosen this as a goal for the year and developed the grant application.

“Our students will be working with kindergarten, first grade and second-grade students on the importance of agriculture, fruits and vegetables and growing healthy foods,” Dennis said.

The younger students will work alongside the high school juniors and seniors in the garden planting and harvesting. Dennis said he hopes to have some items already growing when students return in the fall. Other items will be planted from seeds or starter plants by the students themselves.

“My plan is for each grade to have four beds,” Dennis said. “Kindergarten will have four. First grade will have four, and second grade will have four. Very likely, there will be different things in those beds, but they can still look at the other students’ beds.”

Pathways will be created in between the beds.

Pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, greens, red potatoes, strawberries and onions are already on the list of potential produce.

“We want their teachers involved in this too, and hopefully when they leave from lunch everyday on a pretty day then they will take them through the garden to see how things are going and we’ll have everything labeled,” Dennis said. “Even the classes that aren’t our target classes that we’re teaching in there, we want them all to go through there and identify the stuff and see what’s growing and participate in it.”

FCCLA students will also be part of program by teaching younger students about cooking the produce grown in the garden.

The high school students will also be teaching about agriculture in the classrooms.  Topics will include soil fertility, fruits, vegetables and insects.

Information for the lessons will come from Alabama Cooperative Extension System resources.

“We are going to be working with them make sure we have the most up-to-date information,” Dennis said.

Some of the seniors that worked on the grant application are a little disappointed that they will not be able to be a part of the project.

“That’s just part of it, you have to leave something in motion for the next group that is coming in,” Dennis said.

Maplesville FFA had a few raised beds this school year and had first grade students visit the area. Dennis said the younger students really “looked up to them (juniors and seniors). They just hang on every word they say.”

This was the inspiration for the expanded elementary agriculture program.

The Tractor Supply grant funds the first year of the program. The plan is to secure additional partners and grants to keep the project running in the future.

The FFA garden receives funds from Area Community Action and in return donates some of the produce to Through the Grace of God Ministries in Clanton and the Senior Community Center.

Students who work in the garden are also permitted to take some of the produce home.