Last summer, Taylor Campbell, a high school junior from Jonesborough, Tenn., cultivated more than just bushel baskets of produce as part of her supervised agricultural experience (SAE). The fruits of her labor grew into food for the soul while providing nourishment for a small, rural community.
Thanks to a Semester-Long Living to Serve Grant (with a hunger, health and nutrition focus) provided by National FFA, Campbell and fellow members of David Crockett FFA built eight raised garden beds in a remote, empty field on the outskirts of town. The Jonesborough municipality and its parks and recreation department donated the plot of land, seeds, and supplies. The students provided the sweat equity and sheer dedication.
A host of hungry critters (most likely rabbits) conspired against the youth by “thinning the crops,” helping themselves to some of the bounty. The plant pilferage along with record heat and a terrible drought tested the teens’ mettle throughout the summer, but they persevered.
The organic peas, carrots, squash, and cucumbers thrived as the dedicated youth took turns weeding, watering and checking the crops of their Jonesborough Community Gardens. Then after harvesting the produce, Taylor and three others delivered it to their local food pantry. It was the first time they had stepped foot into such a facility.
“We really got to see just how many people are food insecure in our area. These are people we see at our school, at the grocery store—students, the elderly, mothers and children,” Taylor says. “And because we’re such a small town, it really hit home just how many people we were providing for with just those few raised garden beds. It showed us what a huge difference FFA members can make in our community—and in the world.”
Because of the project’s success, the town requested the FFA chapter lead an even larger community gardens effort to engage additional civic organizations and churches. Ryan Arnett, the chapter’s longtime advisor, hopes to oblige. He says they plan to continue and expand the project and its reach this summer.
This story originally appeared in Spring/Summer 2018 Blue Jackets, Bright Futures.