Perspectives: The Golden Tomato…Turning Donations into Cash!

By Brandie Disberger
Agriscience Teacher, Southeast of Saline High School, Kansas


Money. Dough. Moolah….whatever you call it, it can be considered a necessary evil to the FFA advisor.  There is no doubt in the current times of budget cuts and money crunches that we have to become creative in how we raise money for our organizations.  Fundraising does not have to become a second job of the advisor or the students.  It is possible to even combine education with the task of raising money.  To do this, you may have to think outside the traditions of fruit sales and concessions stands, or even better, compliment those efforts with a new idea to help cover the extra income your program may need.


Some of the best ideas come out of shear need.  This is how our chapter discovered the most innovative and educational fundraiser we have ever had.  During my first year of teaching, in a school that had never had an agricultural education or FFA chapter before, we were definitely in need.  In need of a hands-on education opportunity for a mis-matched group of seniors who enrolled in agribusiness class and in desperate need of cash to help get the program started on the right foot.  My initial thought was that my students needed to experience managing a business before they were able to grasp the business concepts I wanted to cover in the class.  So, what type of business could we manage that would be supported by the community, be a hands-on experience for the students and not consume every minute of every class?  The answer was SALSA!  We began by utilizing tomatoes, peppers and onions donated by the community members.  We conducted taste tests and refined our recipe based on our customers’ requests.  We developed a marketing plan and financial record system and managed inventory.  The best part was students were doing it all, without spending hours of time outside of the class, and they were learning!


Steps to Success:


  1. Brainstorm. Think of products with your class that student’s would have the ability to make and the desire to purchase.  The salsa is not canned or cooked, we now use canned ingredients and simply mix and package.  This ensures that we spend our time running the business instead of creating the product.
  2. Select your product. Determine what product can be easily created with materials that can be donated or are already owed by the school or FFA program.
  3. Get customer feedback. Develop trial products and get customer feedback and then make revisions based on that feedback.
  4. Create committees; we use marketing, finance and production.
  5. Start small and get bigger.  We start with one “flavor” of salsa and then expand to mild, medium and hot.  Finally we add chips as a purchase option as well.
  6. Set parameters for the business.  If you don’t, it will take over!  We make the salsa one day a week and our “salsa season” is from October  - December.
  7. Make it professional.  We create the product in the school kitchen and students are trained in food safety. We create labels for the product and offer volume discounts and “packaged” deals.

Salsa has always been the choice of my students and our customers, but don’t feel limited.  Other chapters have used this idea to create bar-b-que sauce, spice mixes and mixed seed packages.  You will be surprised what ideas your students will come up with.  Traditionally in our program, this has been the project of the agribusiness class, but it would fit nicely in several courses depending on what product your students decide to create. 

Getting started with a new fundraiser, especially one that is new from the ground up, has its share of challenges, but with a little experience and a solid reputation, we have now developed a well-oiled machine that is sought after by the community members and school faculty.  They are coming TO US and requesting our product!  Happy sales!