State College FFA students explore seed-to-table experience

FFA members Shailyn Furman, Delaney Kenyon, Claire Mierwald, Evan Kocher and Joanna Everhart plant a tomato wall in the ag greenhouse.
FFA members Shailyn Furman, Delaney Kenyon, Claire Mierwald, Evan Kocher and Joanna Everhart plant a tomato wall in the ag greenhouse. Photo provided

The State College Little Lions FFA Chapter received a $2,500 “Food for All” grant to help complete a community food project that lasts through the year.

But they’re going as far as working with other school groups and a local business to raise money, donate goods and make their own food.

And it even includes a limited edition sauce that will be bottled and sold to help raise funds for local food banks and other initiatives.

State College Area High School was one of three schools in the state to receive the grant from the National FFA Organization to purchase vegetable seeds and food-processing equipment.

FFA, formerly known as Future Farmers of America, is a youth organization that promotes agriculture education.

FFA adviser and ag science teacher Paul Heasley said he made a proposal to the National FFA Organization last fall and was funded in February.

“We wanted to have students understand and share the seed-to-table experience with others,” he said. “We also wanted to provide some opportunities for students to better understand where their food comes from, and how to harvest and preserve food nutrients, especially at times of abundant harvests.”

He also said it’s a way for students to gain leadership skills and help a community larger than just the school district.

Students planted seeds in the school’s greenhouse and donated some vegetable plants to school gardens and sold the remaining plants.

Funds were used to purchase condiments for the State College Food Bank. They made about $350 selling 35 plants, Heasley said.

“We reached out to them and asked what they needed the most, and they were really in need of condiments,” Heasley said. “We didn’t just want to purchase things they didn’t need.”

Veggies planted included tomatoes, broccoli, eggplant, cabbage, cauliflower, peppers and lettuce.

Using those veggies, Heasley said they plan to partner with culinary arts students to process them into canned goods for spaghetti sauce, fruit butters and sauerkraut.

The food items will be offered to staff and parents in exchange for commercially canned items that can be given to the Food Bank and other community organizations that provide food to those in need, during a schoolwide food drive, Heasley said.

They also received donations of fruit items and are working with Shellie Mierwald, of Sweet Heat Gourmet — a State College-based cooking sauce company — to have the students process fruit into a limited edition cooking sauce to be sold locally.

The sauce flavors will include peach and raspberry, Heasley said.

Bottles will be sold for about $6 each with the hopes of raising about $2,500 in two weeks of the Nov. 14 processing date.

All proceeds of the sale will be used to purchase food items for the State College Food Bank, Centre County Youth Service Bureau, State College Meals on Wheels, the PSU Food Pantry and more.

About 10 culinary arts students are helping with the recipe, while other students are working on marketing and sales and creating a website, Heasley said.

“It was a good way to kick off the school year with some kind of theme and a mission for the project,” Heasley said. “Even the incoming freshmen were pretty excited to be a part of it.”

All grant money needs to be spent by the end of October, which is also national Farm to School month.

Project partners include ag science students, FFA, ulinary arts students, DECA club members, SkillsUSA and the CISCO Program.

About 300 to 400 students are involved in the project, Heasley said.