Nestled among the orchards and vineyards of central California’s San Joaquin Valley, Selma High School is like most American high schools. Academically focused students shuffle through the halls to class. Hardworking teachers creatively cram rigor and relevance into 50-minute blocks of time. Administrators look for ways to shave much-needed dollars from an ever-shrinking budget.
But look closer and you’ll see another characteristic that’s becoming all too familiar in school districts across the country: 74 percent of Selma Unified District Schools’ students receive free and reduced lunches.
Enter the 355-member strong Selma FFA and their goal to provide fresh fruit to the district’s student body using their 14-acre school farm laboratory.
“We had four Introduction to Agriculture classes this year and all of those students were able to participate in harvesting our orange crop,” said Selma FFA advisor and agriculture teacher Katie Chambers. “[The students] get excited to see that the oranges that they harvest are going right back to the school cafeterias.”
The project has become an FFA advisor’s dream-come-true.
“We are fortunate to be able to integrate some of our work on this project into our class time,” Chambers said. “We’ve found this to be a great recruitment tool for us. We were able to put on a fantastic display at our junior high school for approximately 500 students. They are able to see just a fraction of what we do out on our school farm and in our classrooms. As an added bonus, these kids are also learning about nutrition, plant science, animal science, and ag mechanics.”
Chambers is also quick to point out that Selma’s agriculture students are creating awareness of the need for healthy and reliable food sources for everyone in their area.
“The community is very supportive of our efforts. We are fortunate to be able to work with some fantastic individuals,” Chambers added.
Hundreds of similar stories are being shared through the FFA: Food for All grants program, administered by the National FFA Organization and sponsored by Farmers Feeding the World and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation as a special project of the National FFA Foundation.
To help fight hunger, FFA chapters may apply for up to $2,500 to support year-long service-learning projects focused on developing and implementing sustainable hunger programs. Service-learning is a method of teaching and learning that challenges students to identify, research, develop, and implement solutions to identified needs in their school or community as part of their curriculum. Project concepts include, but are not limited to:
- Developing a community garden to supplement fresh fruits and vegetables to the school or local food pantry.
- Raising broilers to provide fresh meat and eggs to local families.
- Growing Tilapia and other protein sources to be donated to the community.
- Creating a Community Supported Agriculture program that provides fresh produce to families in need.
- Hosting community workshops on container and backyard gardening and other sustainable food practices.
"FFA members will be involved in all stages of the project, which creates a greater sense of ownership and increases learning,” says Stefonie Sebastian, the program manager for the Food For All grants. “The community partnerships that have been formed will create a sustainable project that will truly impact hunger in their local community."
To learn more about the program and how to apply for a grant, visit the FFA: Food For All grants webpage, www.FFA.org/foodforall. The deadline for application is December 2012.