Christian Thurwanger waters some plants in the Sycamore High School greenhouse. This is the third year that the student has taken horticulture classes and participated in the annual plant sale. Class members start working in the greenhouse in February by planting plugs. The proceeds from the sale are used to purchase supplies for the next year’s plant sale.
Christian Thurwanger waters some plants in the Sycamore High School greenhouse. This is the third year that the student has taken horticulture classes and participated in the annual plant sale. Class members start working in the greenhouse in February by planting plugs. The proceeds from the sale are used to purchase supplies for the next year’s plant sale.
SYCAMORE, Ill. — Sycamore High School students have been selling perennial and annual plants from the school’s greenhouse for many years.

“Our FFA alumni group built this greenhouse in the late ‘70s,” said Kara Poynter, ag instructor and FFA adviser at Sycamore High School. “This year, I wrote a grant to the Sycamore Education Foundation for the concrete floor in the greenhouse, which has made a world of difference.”

The plant sale is held for two weeks each year in May, and it is organized by the students in the horticulture class and the Sycamore FFA Chapter members.

“The whole idea is not to make lots of money, but to provide plants to the community at a reasonable cost and to give our students a learning experience,” Poynter explained. “The sale includes about 15 kinds of annuals, 10 to 12 different perennials, as well as tomatoes, peppers and herbs.”

The proceeds from the plant sale go right back into the program to purchase supplies for the next year’s sale.

“We start working on the sale during the second week of February by planting plugs,” said Poynter, who has taught at Sycamore for the past six years. “We also start some of the plants from seed.”

Last year, Autumn Salis helped with the plant sale, and this year she enrolled in the horticulture class.

“We have plant ID quizzes every week,” said the high school junior who recently was elected to serve as the chapter’s president for the second year. “We learn which plants are best for sun or shade, and that helps when customers come in and ask questions.”

Salis decided to enroll in the horticulture class because she is considering a college degree in agricultural education.

“I’m an animal science girl, so I wanted a well-balanced ag experience in high school,” she said.

For her FFA projects, Salis raises 100 hens and sells the eggs and she also works at a hog operation.

Students can take horticulture classes all four years at Sycamore.

“I teach greenhouse production, floral design, landscaping and vegetables,” Poynter said. “We recently took a field trip to the Japanese Gardens in Rockford, and the kids were identifying plants there.”

“I really enjoy working in the greenhouse,” said Joseph Graham, a junior who has enrolled in the horticulture class for two years. “My long-term goal is to be a landscape designer.”

Sophomore student Sam Sauber is taking horticulture for the second year, after one of his fellow students convinced him to enroll.

“I like being outside. I don’t like to sit in a chair all day,” he noted.

“Sam has probably worked in the greenhouse the most,” the ag instructor said. “He has been working in the greenhouse during his study hall period.”

In addition, Sauber volunteered to help with the plant sale on Mother’s Day.

“That was really helpful to have someone there that I could trust while I spent some time with my family,” Poynter said.

Sauber is raising chickens this year for his FFA project, and he was elected to serve as the FFA chapter reporter for the upcoming year.

“I was able to bring my chickens in for the petting zoo during National FFA Week,” he noted.

Christian Thurwanger is graduating from Sycamore High School this year and currently is serving as the Section 6 FFA president.

“As president, I’ve spent a lot of time promoting the FFA name through various means, like state convention and leadership camp,” he said. “At leadership camp, I was responsible for a group of students to lead them in activities to help then become better leaders.”

Thurwanger helped to organize the section banquet, kickoff party and leadership training school.

“During the leadership training school, we had the section officer team do a workshop and members of the collegiate FFA chapter at Illinois State University do workshops,” the FFA member said. “I also started reflections this year at the leadership training school.”

This fall, Thurwanger will be attending Western Illinois University to major in agricultural education and possibly a pre-law minor.

“Hopefully, I can teach ag in this area,” he said.

“It would be great if Christian would become the second teacher at Sycamore,” his FFA adviser added.

In addition, the FFA member would love to be involved with his family farm.

“My family raises 17,000 hogs a year, and we grow wheat, corn and soybeans,” he said. “My FFA project is swine production entrepreneurship.”

Thurwanger buys and raises hogs and competes in hog shows during the summer.

“I’m a fair hopper. I go to seven or eight shows a year,” he said. “I’ve never had a real summer vacation, but I’m OK with that.”

Poynter is grateful to receive great support for the program at Sycamore from both the school’s administration and FFA alumni association.

“I started a new class this year called Ag Academy, and kids received college and high school credit for it,” the ag instructor said. “This class looked at all sectors of the ag industry, and we toured ag businesses like Elburn Co-op, the Chicago Board of Trade and the John Deere factory.”

During the visits, the students learned from various business representatives what the companies are looking for in employees.

“These visits were designed to help the kids make decisions for college,” Poynter explained.

“The FFA alumni group is a huge support system for our school,” the FFA adviser stressed. “They help pay for FFA jackets, so the kids only pay $15, they are paying for Autumn to go to Washington Leadership Conference this year and they present senior scholarships.”