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June 22, 2011   Email to Friend 

Jillian Clair
June 22, 2011

Young Farmers helped plant a gardent at Big Oak Ranch last weekend.
John Croyle's Big Oak Ranch is known for helping children through a variety of means, and the St. Clair County Young Farmers Division recently helped add gardening to the list.

"We were looking for a project that combined community service with agriculture, and it just dawned on us how close Big Oak Ranch is," said Mike Dole, vice chairman of the St. Clair County Young Farmers Division.

Big Oak Ranch is home to 60 boys at the boys' ranch in Gadsden, 40 girls at the girls' ranch in Springville and has 34 house parents between the two locations. An acre and a half of land at the boys' ranch now holds the promise of enough okra, watermelon, peas, beans, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, cantaloupe and pumpkins to supply residents of the boys and girls ranches with fresh vegetables at harvest time.

Rob McHugh, St. Clair County Young Farmers Division chairman, said the project has two goals: to help save the ranch money on groceries and to teach the children about how their food is grown. "One of the boys out there Saturday was really interested in it, and the whole point was to get them interested," McHugh said. "Maybe in the future when they get married or have their own family, this will make them want to plant a garden, and this will give them an idea of how to do that."

Local farmers donated all the materials needed for the project, and the St. Clair County Women's Leadership Division will help house parents with post-harvest storage and cooking techniques, McHugh said. McHugh, his wife, Angie, and their sons Ridge, 8, and Cove, 4; Dole and his son Henry, 3; Dave Lawley and his son, Josh; Woody Howell; Paige Tucker; Tyler Limbaugh; and Donald Ray Walker spent 13 hours planting the crops June 18.

"Nobody complained because they knew why they were out there," McHugh said. "A lot of those kids at the ranch and their house parents don't come from a farm, and for them to see that, it was just overwhelming."

McHugh said the volunteers will go back regularly throughout the season to spray, fertilize and harvest, but the boys will be responsible for watering the plants everyday.

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