Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Students grow, raise food for hungry

by Jade Bolack

October 04, 2012

WALWORTH — Since February, 30 Big Foot High School students have spent 360 hours producing food for local families in need.

The project, Fuel Foods for Families, was created through a National FFA Organization grant program.

Brittany Rambatt, president of the school's FFA chapter, said the $2,500 grant helped start the project.

"When applying for the grant, I designed the program," she said. "There are four main areas: the meat, the eggs, the fish and the produce. They were all meant to create food for donation to local food pantries."

Nearly all of the project has been successful, Rambatt said.

"We donate at least two dozen eggs a week," she said. "And we've already donated over 100 pounds of meat, and we'll be butchering more (Sept. 29)."

The fish aspect flopped.

"We really need to do more research on the fish," Rambatt said. "The kind that we bought didn't survive."

The food pantry welcomed the donations every week.

"The first time I went to the food pantry with a couple other students, they had (the previous news article) posted on the refrigerator," Rambatt said. "They pointed at the article and said, you're them! They know us there. They know the program and what we're doing. They get excited when we come."

Summer staffing

Rambatt and other students tended to the garden, chickens and ducks all summer.

"I made sure someone was here (at school) every single day," she said. "Every Friday, we cleaned out everything (with the animals) and harvested stuff from the garden. Then we'd take it down to the food pantry."

Carlie O'Donnell, another FFA member, said she was surprised by the food production.

"This summer we ended up doing a lot more production than we thought we would," she said. "We were able to make a stable donation to the pantry every single week. A lot of work went into that garden with weeding. It's really looking good now, and there's actually still stuff growing."

Rambatt said the garden production was amazing.

"There would be weeks where I probably donated over 30 pounds of zucchini, 30 pounds or more of tomatoes," she said. "The tomatoes were coming in like crazy. We hope to continue that during the winter with the garden beds in the greenhouse."

Meat production

The project included raising chickens and ducks for meat production, and Rambatt said the students butchered those animals as well.

"We donated over 100 pounds of meat last time," she said. "The students butchered the last set of meat birds, and a group of us are going (Sept. 29) to do them again."

Rambatt said a local butcher allows the students to use the facility to produce the meat, but they do it themselves.

"Some of the meat will be sold to bring money back to the program so it can continue," she said.

Winter and beyond

Rambatt hopes to create a self-sustaining program that will continue after she graduates in 2013.

"We're working on turning it into a cooperative," she said. "We're looking for people that would want to buy into the program. Based on a budget analysis, we're going to figure out share holders needed and divide the produce amongst them."

The cooperative plan, Rambatt said, is to give 25 percent of the food produced to the shareholders and continue to donate 75 percent to food pantries. The shareholders will support the project and receive some food in return.

There are also underclassmen at Big Foot that are interested in keeping the project going.

"There are a lot of people that are interested," Rambatt said. "The great part of the project is that it's not just FFA that's involved. The animal science (students) take care of the birds now that the school year has started, and the plant science (students) help plant the greenhouse beds."

Other projects in the agriculture department at the high school are helping the food production, as well.

Students in an environmental studies class created a water collection system for rain water off the greenhouse roof, Rambatt said.

"All that water was used to water the garden this summer," she said. "All the projects in the agriculture department are connected."