Kentucky FFA Chapter Embraces Local Food Movement, Sells Produce to High School Cafeteria

Boyle County FFA

When Tucker Huntsinger passes through the cafeteria line at Boyle County High School in Danville, Ky., he gets a sense of personal satisfaction knowing the lettuce being served in salads and other dishes is the product of his own hands.

“My dad helped me put together a chicken coop, and now I have 33 chickens.”

A senior and president of the Boyle County FFA Chapter, Tucker learned how to grow hydroponic lettuce from taking a greenhouse technology class. Using those skills, Tucker created two lettuce beds in his school’s state-of-the-art greenhouse, each bed producing 120 heads at a time. Soon, he began selling his lettuce to all the schools in Boyle County for use in their cafeterias.

“Hydroponic lettuce is grown on water in an oasis cube, with no soil involved,” Tucker explains. “It’s cleaner and healthier this way, because there are no chemicals used. Several people have asked me to buy it, so I plan to add more beds and double production so I can sell it to anyone who wants some.”

Boyle County FFA advisor Toni Myers helped Tucker get his lettuce into local cafeterias.

“We live in an awesome community where people support us, and our school’s food director showed me hydroponic lettuce,” Myers says. “We thought we could tackle it, so we experimented with it, and it just evolved. The cafeteria was already buying lettuce, and this was something we could do for them.”

Tucker is just one of the Boyle County FFA members who has had success growing and selling food. The whole chapter has embraced the nationwide local food movement, producing everything from vegetables and eggs to herbs
and greenhouse plants.

“The local food movement has gotten lots of publicity nationwide, and we strive to stay current on what’s happening in the world,” Myers says. “When I started teaching here in 2007, there was a 30-year-old greenhouse that needed replaced. We raised enough money with the help of the local ag community to build a new greenhouse, and we use it
to grow things that will impact our community.”

The Boyle County Farmers’ Market invited the agriculture students to sell their bedding plants, herbs, flowers and hanging baskets at the market in summer 2011. Kaitlin Ziesmer, a senior FFA member, was also invited to sell eggs she produces on her family’s small farm.

“My freshman year, I did an incubation project where I brought home six chickens,” Kaitlin says. “My dad helped me put together a chicken coop, and now I have 33 chickens.”

Kaitlin spends about 30 minutes every day feeding the chickens, cleaning the coop and gathering eggs, which she sells to friends, family and teachers through Boyle County High School’s agriculture office.

“I sell about 10 dozen eggs a week, and the teachers love them,” Kaitlin says. “The last two years, I brought eggs for our teacher appreciation breakfast during FFA week, and that opened doors for me to sell more eggs.”

Because Kaitlin sells eggs that are only one day old, people notice a big improvement in the freshness and taste compared to store-bought eggs.

“The people who eat Kaitlin’s eggs will actually fight over buying them – they’re that good,” Myers says. “Last year, I visited her farm, and her project is just phenomenal in the way it is engineered. She has taken a lot of initiative.”

Boyle County FFA

Another Boyle County FFA member, junior David Faulkner, also produces and sells his own eggs.

“These kids are really well-rounded in ag education. They have great projects and are leaders in our chapter,” says Matt Whitaker, who co-teaches agriculture with Myers. “They are strong classroom students, so we don’t have to worry about their grades. And they think outside the box – they are willing to take risks and try anything we throw at them.”

In spring 2011, Boyle County High School’s agriscience class built raised beds near the greenhouse, where they grew tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cabbage and spinach to donate to local food banks. Students also grew more than 100 pounds of cherry tomatoes that were sold to the school’s cafeteria, like Tucker’s hydroponic lettuce.

“The cherry tomatoes were a class project, and we’re proud of it,” Myers says. “It brings me a lot of satisfaction to see the kids eat them right off the vine – they pop them in their mouths like candy. Then they see those same tomatoes in the lunch line, and they get to see that connection come full circle.”

-Jessica Mozo