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Roland-Story FFA grows tons of food for Iowa pantries in project 'bigger than ourselves'

Ronna Faaborg
Ames Tribune
A group of Roland-Story FFA members work in the community garden in Story City.

For many weeks, a group of Roland-Story High School students has been giving thanks for the harvest from their community garden, and the project has created a domino effect of gratitude among those involved.

Roland-Story FFA members volunteered their time and energy to plant and tend a community garden this growing season.

They planned, planted, weeded and harvested — all with the end goal of giving the fruits of their labor to local food pantries, including Loaves and Fishes in Story City, the middle school pantry in Roland, Bethesda Lutheran Church and Food at First in Ames.

“I believe that it’s important to help those in the community around us,” said Samuel Skaar, treasurer for the FFA chapter. “We are always told to help people — and more specifically those in other countries around the world — but we should always remember the people in need who might be next door.”

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It’s not the first year for the Roland-Story FFA project, which has grown year upon year for the past six years.

Since it started, the garden plot has yielded more than 107,500 pounds of fresh produce to feed local people, according to Brad Taylor, Roland-Story agriculture instructor and FFA advisor. This year alone, the FFA members harvested just over 27,250 pounds of food, all of which benefited the area food pantries, he said.

A pickup full of watermelons and other produce arrives at Food at First in Ames, one of the four food pantries that benefit from the harvested food.

“The output is what is most important about working in the garden. We put work into planting, weeding and harvesting,” said Maddy Stevenson, co-president of the Roland-Story FFA chapter and reporter for the North Central District. “Doing those things allows us to finalize this project by allowing someone to receive a fresh vegetable for their meals.

“It is a capstone to put a smile on someone else’s face from doing something so simple.”

The students plant a variety of produce, including sweet corn, onions, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, pie pumpkins, eggplant and watermelon. They choose produce that has a solid survivability rate, Skaar said.

“Since we are donating this fresh produce, we do choose to grow foods that can be conveniently used for cooking and baking and just for overall consumption,” said Caden Sporleder, chapter co-president.

Reagan Schmitz, co-secretary of the FFA chapter, agreed that knowing the crops would be donated influenced what they chose to plant.

“For example, we wanted foods we know people will enjoy, but also wanted foods with high nutritional value,” Schmitz said. 

The community garden is grown on land owned by WinField United in Story City, which donates the use of the land to the students.

“I am very grateful to WinField for allowing us to use their land. This project would not be possible if it wasn’t for them,” Skaar said. “Our funds are allotted to us via a grant from WinField as well as our FFA program at our garden planning meeting.”

A truck load of melons and squash is harvested from the Roland-Story FFA's community garden in Story City. The produce awaits delivery to one of the four area food pantries that benefit from the students' project.

The project is a big team effort, Schmitz said.

“Mr. Taylor is a great communicator and has many connections,” she said. “Our club has written and received many grants for our garden, and it’s nice to know other groups and organizations want to be a part of something special.”

During the summer months, Roland-Story FFA officers pair up and take turns weeding the crops each week. As harvest time swings around, members lend a helping hand whenever need be, Stevenson said.

“I always love helping with harvest because that is when I get to connect with new members or even fellow teammates,” she said. “Mr. Taylor also uses the garden as a way to teach. Oftentimes he takes classes in the garden to plant the potatoes, test the soil and gain more knowledge pertaining to horticulture.”

The FFA officers agreed there is fulfillment in helping and providing for people who may be going through tough times.

“To be able to grow a large amount of fresh produce on a small amount of land is powerful,” Sporleder said. “It is also a large example of ‘Many hands make light work.’

“With teamwork and servant hearts, we are able to make a difference in someone’s life. So much time, effort, communication and commitment is put into this project, and it is fulfilling to know that the end product is excellent and going towards something bigger than ourselves.”

Dawson Chelsvig, Lori Oakland and Reagan Schmitz pose with pumpkins harvested from the Roland-Story FFA's community garden.