US: Minnesota school growing vegetables and FFA membership while helping feed community

When Eric Sawatzke came to West Central Area High School in 2017, he was teaching about plants using cardboard cutouts. “Here we are in the middle of farm country, talking to a bunch of farm kids that has seen this stuff all their life and he’s having to use, you know, like a puppet show,” said Sue Kulbiek, a member of the Lions Club in Elbow Lake, one of the towns in the West Central Area School District.

Things have changed radically in the years since, with a grant from the Lions Clubs International Foundation, written by Kulbiek, that will help bring a $350,000 greenhouse to the school campus by the end of the summer of 2022.

That will mean Sawatze will be able to teach the basics of agronomy using live plants. For example, he says, the school can germinate the seeds of weeds that would be common in the corn, soybean, and sugarbeet fields in western Minnesota, so that students can identify them on the farm. Students also will be able to work toward GAP certification for handling fresh produce. GAP is a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that stands for Good Agricultural Practices.

Providing fresh produce to food pantries in Grant County is what got the Lions Club involved in the West Central Area project and has brought new members into the school's FFA program. The school started with smaller-scale projects — a shed and a tower to grow garden produce using hydroponics under artificial light.

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