Helping hands: FFA chapters lend support to the nation and world

By Kimberly Vogel
FFA Public Relations Intern

It is easy to assume that today’s teenagers only care about Facebook, their phones and Twitter. However, two National FFA Organization chapters are proving that they care about the world around them and are taking strides to make it a better place.

FFA members at Chico High School in Chico, Calif., are planning a trip to Tanzania in November to help the local people build a well for clean drinking water. The local chapter at Wendell High School in Wendell, Idaho, is doing its part to help end hunger in its area by growing and harvesting produce from a community garden and donating it to local food pantries. Both groups are proving that today’s generation of FFA members are dedicated to helping people locally, and around the world.

Chico High School FFA members recently spent two to three months building a drill to improve the water system on a farm plot in Chico. By installing the drill locally, the students learned how it might work when put in place in Tanzania. Upon arrival in Tanzania, they hope to drill for three to four days, but this depends on whether or not they find water, according to Ronnie Cockrell, FFA advisor for Chico High School. By building the drill on their farm plot, the members created a gravity-fed drip system, which uses an elevated reservoir with a pipe or valve on the bottom to dispense the water to the land below. They were then able to grow pumpkins and tomatoes for their school’s cafeteria.

Local attorney Ron Reed will also accompany the FFA members to Africa, where he has been multiple times to help provide water. He has spent many years building drills with local help.

Many villages in southeast Africa struggle with contaminated sources of water such as swamps, drainage ditches and streams. According to WaterAid.org, only about 54 percent of the population in Tanzania has access to adequate water supplies, and more than 20,000 children die each year from contaminated water-related diseases. In remote areas, people have to travel several hours for their nearest clean drinking source, some even up to seven hours a day.

The FFA members plan on setting up a 500-gallon storage tank in the village they are visiting.

Seven FFA members will accompany Cockrell and Reed, and Reed’s son, Jordan, who will supervise the students. To get to Tanzania, they must endure many hours of travel. After landing in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the group will go through multiple remote locations, before arriving at the village after a 10-hour bus ride, according to an article written by Heather Hacking, staff writer at Oroville Mercury Register on Sept. 3.

The drill is 10-feet tall, six-feet wide, and eight- to nine-feet deep. A lack of tools prevents the students from assembling the drill in Tanzania, so it is easier to build the drill prior to leaving Chico, and ship it to the site, according to Cockrell. They will leave the drill in Tanzania when they leave.

“We will also be teaching them how to weld while we are there so if it breaks down they can fix it,” Cockrell stated.

First, they need to raise enough money to fund the trip, according to Cockrell, and donations to the school’s agriculture booster program are much appreciated. The trip will cost $16,000 in expenses.

Reed states that he is excited to share this experience with the FFA members, and to show them what life in the rest of the world is like.

Not only are there people in need around the world, but there are important issues that are being addressed in the United States as well, especially in regards to hunger.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 14.9 percent of households in the United States are not food secure, and about three million rural households are hungry, or near hungry. The Wendell FFA Chapter is working to help those hungry individuals in its area. With help from Land O’ Lakes, agronomists and local cooperatives, the chapter has established a community garden near Jerome, Idaho.

Land O’Lakes’ subsidiary, Croplan Genetics, currently has an Answer Plot located near the garden. This allows the students to take advantage of the equipment that is available. The chapter was also given a grant of $1,200 plus a tool kit, according to an article by Cindy Synder in Ag Weekly on Aug. 27.

Lucas Villagomez, chapter president and senior at Wendell High School, has led the chapter in growing, harvesting and donating the produce. The food is donated to local food pantries and local churches. Villagomez and his chapter have gathered 400 pounds of produce, mostly comprised of carrots and lettuce, but that number is expected to reach one ton with the winter squash, cantaloupe, sweet corn, potato, pepper, tomatillo and tomato crop yet to be counted, according to Synder.

Villagomez said that the reward is in the faces of the people who are helped by the donation. He also hopes to use the produce in his school’s cafeteria, and plans to meet with the school board to discuss this possibility.

Today’s FFA members are getting involved. Whether it is locally, or on the other side of the world, they are doing their part to leave this planet better than they found it.