Most students have to visualize the information they’re taught in school, never experiencing first-hand the glories of the earth or the great outdoors. But for some Elmore County students, the great outdoors is just another classroom.
Holtville High School FFA students – led by agriscience teacher Scott Poague – supplemented traditional textbook studies this year with the inaugural “Farm Fresh to You” program. A community-supported agricultural (CSA) garden located on Holtville’s campus, “Farm Fresh” provides eight customers with weekly deliveries of fresh summer produce for a seasonal fee of $100. Though Poague laid the groundwork for the garden, he says it’s the students who deserve credit for its success.
“I help with the harvest, make sure things run smoothly and deal with the customers, but the students are really the backbone of this project,” said Poague, who was inspired to start the CSA garden after visiting Randle Farms last year. At their Lee County farm, the Randles offer shares of meats and vegetables throughout the year for seasonal fees. Recognizing a good idea when he sees one, Poague tweaked the idea to fit his school’s landscape.
“After seeing the program in action at the Randles, I knew this would be a great fundraiser-type opportunity for our students,” he explained. “We received a grant through the Mid-State Resource Conservation and Development Council to purchase equipment last fall, prepped the land and planted this spring. It has done very well, and we’re proud to be providing a service – vegetables, in this case – to the community.”
While the program has been a financial success for Holtville’s FFA chapter, the program’s underlying benefits exceed fiscal values. Members of the Slapout, Holtville and Wetumpka communities have applauded the school’s program, emphasizing how nice it is that students are involved in farming. Community members also enjoy knowing several area residents are eating locally grown food.
“And for horticulture students, it’s been a great way to get them out of the classroom so they can see first-hand what we’ve talked about in class,” added Poague. “It’s good for them to get their hands in the dirt.”
In addition to experience, the garden provides a few students with a summer job. Most teenagers would rather sleep in and relax in the air conditioning during the sweltering summer months, but a handful of Poague’s students come to the garden weekday mornings, pick what’s ready and earn a little money in the process.
“I really like having something I can do outside,” said Chandler Morgan, a junior at Holtville. “It’s not always easy work, but I enjoy it. I can get here early, pick beans or pull weeds, and still have plenty of time left in the day to do what I want.”
Tyler Blankenship, also a junior, echoed Morgan’s remarks, adding that the summer heat isn’t much of a deterrent for him.
“Working this garden is much better than being in the classroom,” said Blankenship, as he filled his five-gallon bucket with beans. “I grew up around hay and cattle, but I like being in the garden more.”
Based on the program’s popularity, Poague said he expects to open the garden to more customers in the future. Plans to expand the garden’s acreage and fare are also in the works.
“Some farmers may plant two or three things – sweet corn, tomatoes, peaches – but to do this, we had to plant different things over a period of time to keep things coming up all summer,” Poague said. “We limited the number of customers this year because we didn’t want to cut things too close, but I see us increasing that number next year.”
During its first season, Holtville’s “Farm Fresh” garden offered customers sweet corn, field corn, peas, peppers, tomatoes, onions, squash, okra, beans and cucumbers.
Interested in starting a CSA garden but not sure where to start? Email Poague at email@example.com for more information.