Members of the Southeastern FFA Chapter, including Brodie Eddington, Geoffrey Stout, Ryan Perry and Duncan Jackson, examine the sweet corn they picked from their Answer Plot Community Garden. Now in its third year, this program organized by the Land O’Lakes Foundation involves FFA chapters in Illinois, as well as several additional states across the U.S. This year, 21 gardens were planted with the goal of bringing communities together to help alleviate hunger.
Members of the Southeastern FFA Chapter, including Brodie Eddington, Geoffrey Stout, Ryan Perry and Duncan Jackson, examine the sweet corn they picked from their Answer Plot Community Garden. Now in its third year, this program organized by the Land O’Lakes Foundation involves FFA chapters in Illinois, as well as several additional states across the U.S. This year, 21 gardens were planted with the goal of bringing communities together to help alleviate hunger.
ARDEN HILLS, Minn. — Fresh sweet corn and vegetables were delivered to several food banks and organizations thanks to the work by FFA chapters and the Land O’Lakes Foundation.

The Answer Plot Community Garden Program was started three years ago to provide fresh produce to food shelves across the nation. The Cerro Gordo and the Southeastern FFA chapters in Illinois participated in the program along with chapters in California, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

“One of Land O’Lakes Foundation’s big initiatives is Feeding Our Communities, so we are trying to come up with ways to give back to communities we do business in, and we’re looking for ways to involve the Answer Plots and partner with local FFA chapters,” explained Matt Heberling, Answer Plot specialist in Illinois. “We had six gardens the first year, and this year we have 21 gardens.”

FFA chapters are given from one-half to one acre of land at an Answer Plot to plant their garden.

“We also write a $1,200 grant for the chapters to pay for their time and help offset the costs of the garden,” Heberling said. “This year, the FFA chapters had a unique opportunity because Seminis Seeds donated an acres worth of sweet corn seed for their gardens.”

The Cerro Gordo Chapter planted sweet corn, cucumbers and squash for the garden program.

“We have taken our sweet corn and squash to our local Methodist church, the Northeast Community Fund in Decatur and the Good Samaritan Soup Kitchen in Decatur,” said Sierra Day, the reporter for the FFA chapter.

“Each time we picked, we had five or more kids come out and pick,” added Day, a high school sophomore. “We bagged the sweet corn, weighed the truck and delivered it to the food pantries.”

Through this project, Day said, the FFA members have gained communication skills, and they have learned about leadership and responsibility.

“It is a big responsibility to take care of the plants especially through the summer,” she noted.

The Cerro Gordo chapter is planning to participate in the Community Garden Program in 2014.

“Our adviser said he is going to add an officer next year that will be in charge of the plot,” Day said. “And we are planning to make a schedule and have one person in charge for the week to contact members for picking or taking care of the plants.”

This is the first year the Southeastern FFA Chapter participated in the Community Garden Program. The FFA members planted one acre of sweet corn in the Answer Plot at the Augusta Farmers location.

“We grew all sweet corn, and we harvested 8,080 pounds of sweet corn on Labor Day,” said Bryan Schullian, the FFA adviser for the Southeastern FFA Chapter. “Eleven students harvested the sweet corn. It took us about six hours, and we filled four pickup trucks.”

Once the sweet corn was picked, the FFA members donated some to the Southeastern Food Pantry and to the Madonna House in Quincy that also has a food pantry.

“We had about 6,000 pounds of sweet corn left, so we came back to the ag shop, unloaded it there and spread it out so it wouldn’t overheat,” Schullian said.

The FFA chapter opened the ag shop on Tuesday and Wednesday and by word of mouth invited community members to take as much sweet corn as they could use.

“We had churches that have food pantries, organizations, charities and community members come and get sweet corn,” the FFA adviser said. “By Wednesday after school all the sweet corn was gone.”

Schullian admitted his first reaction was frustration when the FFA members unloaded the huge amount of sweet corn in the ag shop.

“But when it was gone in two days, I wondered why I doubted the purpose of raising this sweet corn,” added the teacher, now in his third year at Southeastern. “There was somewhere the sweet corn was supposed to be going to.”

The Community Garden project was a completely new experience for the chapter that includes about 75 members.

“At the end of the day of picking, they were tired,” the FFA adviser said. “But they were really excited to know how much sweet corn they had picked, and they really wanted to know where it went.”

And, when the students arrived at school on Thursday morning and saw it was completely gone, Schullian said, it was an eye-opening experience.

“I told the kids they demonstrated a heart of service where they were able to not only better themselves, but also better the community by giving their time to donate this food to those who really need it,” he said. “Our organization is based on service, and this is what it looks like when you live it out.”

The Southeastern FFA Chapter is planning to plant a community garden in 2014.

“In addition to sweet corn, we’re also thinking about planting some other vegetables,” Schullian said.

“I think we’ve helped feed 200 to 300 families with the donations, which is unique because often times fresh produce is a luxury that a lot of families who rely on food pantries don’t get to enjoy,” Heberling noted. “It uplifts people’s spirits when they come in and there’s fresh produce they can take home.”

Land O’Lakes plans to continue to expand the Community Garden Program in 2014 throughout the U.S.

“We’re hoping for 30 to 35 gardens next year,” Heberling said.

FFA chapters interested in participating in the 2014 Answer Plot Community Garden Program should contact Heberling at mpheberling@landolakes.com or Deb Prince at dlprince@landolakes.com.