ARDEN HILLS, Minn. — Fresh sweet corn and vegetables were
delivered to several food banks and organizations thanks to the work by FFA
chapters and the Land O’Lakes Foundation.
The Answer Plot Community Garden Program was started three
years ago to provide fresh produce to food shelves across the nation. The Cerro
Gordo and the Southeastern FFA chapters in Illinois participated in the program
along with chapters in California, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota,
Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and
“One of Land O’Lakes Foundation’s big initiatives is Feeding
Our Communities, so we are trying to come up with ways to give back to
communities we do business in, and we’re looking for ways to involve the Answer
Plots and partner with local FFA chapters,” explained Matt Heberling, Answer
Plot specialist in Illinois. “We had six gardens the first year, and this year
we have 21 gardens.”
FFA chapters are given from one-half to one acre of land at
an Answer Plot to plant their garden.
“We also write a $1,200 grant for the chapters to pay for
their time and help offset the costs of the garden,” Heberling said. “This year,
the FFA chapters had a unique opportunity because Seminis Seeds donated an acres
worth of sweet corn seed for their gardens.”
The Cerro Gordo Chapter planted sweet corn, cucumbers and
squash for the garden program.
“We have taken our sweet corn and squash to our local
Methodist church, the Northeast Community Fund in Decatur and the Good Samaritan
Soup Kitchen in Decatur,” said Sierra Day, the reporter for the FFA chapter.
“Each time we picked, we had five or more kids come out and
pick,” added Day, a high school sophomore. “We bagged the sweet corn, weighed
the truck and delivered it to the food pantries.”
Through this project, Day said, the FFA members have gained
communication skills, and they have learned about leadership and responsibility.
“It is a big responsibility to take care of the plants
especially through the summer,” she noted.
The Cerro Gordo chapter is planning to participate in the
Community Garden Program in 2014.
“Our adviser said he is going to add an officer next year
that will be in charge of the plot,” Day said. “And we are planning to make a
schedule and have one person in charge for the week to contact members for
picking or taking care of the plants.”
This is the first year the Southeastern FFA Chapter
participated in the Community Garden Program. The FFA members planted one acre
of sweet corn in the Answer Plot at the Augusta Farmers location.
“We grew all sweet corn, and we harvested 8,080 pounds of
sweet corn on Labor Day,” said Bryan Schullian, the FFA adviser for the
Southeastern FFA Chapter. “Eleven students harvested the sweet corn. It took us
about six hours, and we filled four pickup trucks.”
Once the sweet corn was picked, the FFA members donated some
to the Southeastern Food Pantry and to the Madonna House in Quincy that also has
a food pantry.
“We had about 6,000 pounds of sweet corn left, so we came
back to the ag shop, unloaded it there and spread it out so it wouldn’t
overheat,” Schullian said.
The FFA chapter opened the ag shop on Tuesday and Wednesday
and by word of mouth invited community members to take as much sweet corn as
they could use.
“We had churches that have food pantries, organizations,
charities and community members come and get sweet corn,” the FFA adviser said.
“By Wednesday after school all the sweet corn was gone.”
Schullian admitted his first reaction was frustration when
the FFA members unloaded the huge amount of sweet corn in the ag shop.
“But when it was gone in two days, I wondered why I doubted
the purpose of raising this sweet corn,” added the teacher, now in his third
year at Southeastern. “There was somewhere the sweet corn was supposed to be
The Community Garden project was a completely new experience
for the chapter that includes about 75 members.
“At the end of the day of picking, they were tired,” the FFA
adviser said. “But they were really excited to know how much sweet corn they had
picked, and they really wanted to know where it went.”
And, when the students arrived at school on Thursday morning
and saw it was completely gone, Schullian said, it was an eye-opening
“I told the kids they demonstrated a heart of service where
they were able to not only better themselves, but also better the community by
giving their time to donate this food to those who really need it,” he said.
“Our organization is based on service, and this is what it looks like when you
live it out.”
The Southeastern FFA Chapter is planning to plant a
community garden in 2014.
“In addition to sweet corn, we’re also thinking about
planting some other vegetables,” Schullian said.
“I think we’ve helped feed 200 to 300 families with the
donations, which is unique because often times fresh produce is a luxury that a
lot of families who rely on food pantries don’t get to enjoy,” Heberling noted.
“It uplifts people’s spirits when they come in and there’s fresh produce they
can take home.”
Land O’Lakes plans to continue to expand the Community
Garden Program in 2014 throughout the U.S.
“We’re hoping for 30 to 35 gardens next year,” Heberling
FFA chapters interested in participating in the 2014 Answer
Plot Community Garden Program should contact Heberling at firstname.lastname@example.org or Deb
Prince at email@example.com.