Waitsburg, Finley FFAs recognized for promoting soil nutrition

Waitsburg, Finley FFAs recognized for promoting soil nutrition
The Finley FFA chapter took home third place in Washington state in the 2014 Helping Communities Grow contest. Waitsburg FFA won first place in the contest. Students developed programs to teach their communities about the importance of fertilizer. (Courtesy: Nutrients for Life Foundation)

NUTRIENTS FOR LIFE FOUNDATION NEWS RELEASE -- The Nutrients for Life Foundation today announced Waitsburg FFA has been awarded $5,000 as the 2014 Helping Communities Grow Washington state winner. The Waitsburg FFA chapter collaborated with a local middle school science teacher as well as The McGregor Company to organize lessons for seventh and eighth grade students about soil nutrients. Twice in March, three chapter members taught the middle school students three different lessons from Nutrients for Life’s Nourishing the Planet in the 21st Century curriculum. In April, middle school students and the freshman agriculture science class walked to a local farmer’s field where The McGregor Company representatives explained their duties as a fertilizer company. The students were also taught how to use a hydraulic soil probe then used their own individual soil probe to collect soil samples to be sent to the lab testing facility. Once the soil samples were collected the students compared soil sample results from the same acre. They learned which nutrients are required to grow corn, soft white winter wheat, and dark northern spring wheat. The students learned what nutrients are already offered in the soil, then drew conclusions as to what nutrients would need to be applied via fertilizer. It was also noted that efficiency and water quality are important factors when applying fertilizer.

This program helped the community by giving the next generation a realistic idea of fertilizer use and need when it comes to farming and home use. As these students become older they will be able to draw upon the knowledge gained to make informed decisions and pass that information on to their parents, family, and neighbors. Future career choices may stem from this program. Leslie Hammer from the McGregor Company took time to discuss job opportunities with their company. Patty Hurin and Bill Griffith, director of the Agriculture Center of Excellence, from the Walla Walla Community College were also in attendance at the field day and spoke to the freshman about continuing education in the agriculture industry.

“The Washington FFA chapters that participated in the Helping Communities Grow chapter recognition program this year left our judges impressed with outstanding quality and creativity,” said Nutrients for Life Foundation Executive Director Harriet Wegmeyer. “These students put a tremendous amount of time and effort into educating their communities about the role fertilizers play in our lives.  It is an honor to present these checks to such deserving students.”

The Colfax FFA chapter won the second place award of $3,000 by creating the “Nourishing Our World Symposium.” First through seventh grade students visited the symposium to explore how agriculture can best feed the ten billion people that will inhabit the Earth by the middle of the twenty-first century. Students rotated through five stations where they learned about enhanced efficiency fertilizers, the limited amount of acreage suitable for food production, diagnosing nutrient deficiencies in plants, how food is transported worldwide, and a quiz show where students learned about food quality and nutrient values. First through fourth grade students, led by Colfax FFA members, built their own “Cup of Dirt.” They learned about the different soil components and nutrients that plants need to survive and thrive. A more comprehensive lesson was taught to fifth, sixth and seventh grade students about the five different aspects of food security. The five groups included: Food Quality, Safety, Transportation, Availability, and Productivity. Each group was taught one of the five ways to help solve the overall problem of feeding the world. After the conclusion of these lessons groups were challenged to create a solution and presentation to the initial problem of “Nourishing our World.” They then presented their solution to a panel of judges that graded them on overall understanding of the topics presented and effectiveness of their solution.

The FFA members were very effective at implementing and sharing the message of the Nourishing Our World Symposium. Students learned firsthand that the prospects may not be as bright as we would like, but the outlook is hardly disheartening. Although inaction, late action, or misplaced emphasis may bring future troubles, we have the tools to steer a more efficient course. There are no impossible biophysical reasons we cannot feed humanity while easing the burden that modern agriculture puts on the biosphere.

The Finley FFA Chapter won $1,000 for third place by creating a hands-on lesson about plant and soil interaction. They presented the lesson to over 1,200 fifth graders at their local Farm Fair. The presentation focused on how plants get their nutrients and how proper plant nutrition affects food production. With the use of live examples they demonstrated nutrient transport and how proper nutrition affects fruits and vegetables. After the lesson the students played an interactive game of jeopardy that tested their new knowledge. The FFA members challenged their students to take the information demonstrated home and use it in their own small gardens. Jennifer Yochum, Finley FFA Advisor said, “The most rewarding elements of this program not only allowed us as FFA members to broaden our knowledge of the agricultural impact on the world, but also allowed us to teach what we learned to others in hopes those we share with will share with someone else. These types of presentations allow us to be agricultural leaders of tomorrow and hopefully impact others to pursue agriculture as they complete their education. The ability to be agricultural role models and spread our knowledge is important in sustaining the future of agriculture. We enjoyed working with the younger students and watching their faces light up when they realized they were learning things that would impact their life.”

Students in participating FFA chapters developed and executed community-based education programs based upon the Nutrients for Life Foundation curriculum, Nourishing the Planet in the 21st Century. This free curriculum, developed by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study and reviewed by the Smithsonian Institution, provides field-tested, standards-based classroom activities to help tomorrow's generation realize that the challenge of feeding our growing population can be solved with science.

During the Helping Communities Grow contest, FFA chapter students teach others about the importance of fertilizer and the role that it plays in one of two categories:  1) providing a safe and nourishing food supply; or 2) keeping the Earth green. FFA chapters who entered projects but didn’t win the top three awards each received $500 mini-grants for their participation. The Helping Communities Grow chapter recognition program encourages FFA students to help the public become better informed about plant nutrients and related agricultural issues. During the project, students gained skills in leadership, public speaking, team building and community awareness while increasing knowledge of soil science and agricultural issues. Washington FFA chapters are encouraged to submit letters of intent and pre-project summaries by the November deadline for 2014-2015 school projects. Details can be found at www.nutrientsforlife.org.