Every October members of the Moapa School FFA Chapter in Nevada spend a few weeks picking pomegranates. The crimson fruit, native to the Mediterranean basin and the Middle East, also thrives in the desert Southwest.
“This is one of the best places in the world for pomegranates to grow,” notes Denise O’Toole, Moapa Valley High School agricultural education teacher and FFA advisor. “We have to work pretty hard to grow other things in this climate, but we don’t have to give the pomegranates much care, and we get a great crop.”
The ease of cultivating the exotic fruits led Moapa Valley High School in Overton, Nev., to plant a small – but growing – pomegranate orchard. In addition to 1.5 acres of trees planted on campus, students also harvest fruit growing in a pasture leased from the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. O’Toole believes her FFA chapter is the only one in the nation with a pomegranate orchard.
The local community clamors for the tangy fruits, purchasing bags of fresh pomegranates from the FFA-run Moapa Valley High School farm market (operated on an honor system) and a booth set up at the annual Pomegranate Art and Craft Festival held in Overton each November.
“People travel from all over the state and all across the western United States to come to the festival,” says O’Toole. “We sell fresh fruit, and the kids wear their FFA jackets and talk about FFA and sell pomegranates.”
Last year, students sold out of pomegranates on the first day of the Pomegranate Art and Craft Festival. The funds raised through festival and farmers market sales help purchase seed, feed and supplies for the Moapa Valley High School farm and support FFA programming.
Although the pomegranate orchard is unique, it’s just one element of a standout school farm.
Far More Than Fruit
The Clark County School District purchased the 40-acre farm in 1958 to complement the classroom experience. With the support of a farm manager, agriculture educators and students, the farm at Moapa Valley High School rivals some of the most successful small-scale diversified farms in the nation. The operation includes 20 Angus-cross cattle, laying hens, alfalfa hay, vegetable gardens and, of course, the pomegranate orchard.
O’Toole oversees the agricultural education program while her husband, Kevin O’Toole, works as a full-time farm manager, supervising FFA members on the farm.
FFA members are engaged in