Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Blooming benevolence

by Rob Ireland

April 26, 2012

Motivated by their love of agriculture and a desire to enrich the community, Big Foot High School students are planting vegetables and raising chickens and fish that will feed the area’s less fortunate.

While learning more about agriculture, the students plan on growing vegetables and raising meats, which will then be donated to the Big Foot Area and Sharon food pantries.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this project is that the leader isn’t a teacher that is passing work along to students. Instead, Big Foot High School junior Brittany Rambatt is running the show and sharing the work load with her peers.

Rambatt applied for and received a $2,500 grant to start the project. The money was used to purchase animal feed, bedding, cages and other supplies. The funds also were used to make electrical improvements to the greenhouse for lighting during the winter months.

Rambatt’s goal is to have this project continue beyond her, and she is enlisting the support of other students to help her food production efforts. Although the grant is getting the project off the ground, Rambatt hopes it becomes self-sufficient.

Her idea is to donate 75 percent of the food that is created. The remaining 25 percent will be sold, which will fund future expenses.

To make this a reality, Rambatt is enrolling the help of plenty of students.

Freshman Carlie O’Donnell is providing a lot of support to the project. By researching temperature controls, finishing up loose ends and planting seeds, she is assisting Rambatt in making this project a reality.

After Rambatt graduates, O’Donnell will take charge.

“We already are further enriching the community,” O’Donnell said. “I feel great pride that she picked me as the one to take it over from her.

O’Donnell said this project is a good educational experience.

“This helps people, and I’m growing my knowledge,” she said. “It can’t get much better than that.”

Junior Michael Wicks helps after school when he can and also assisted in building portions of the garden. He credits Rambatt for her effort in the project.

“This is all she talks about. She is constantly coming up with new ideas and soliciting help,” Wicks said. “She is the leader of it and she is doing a good job.”

As part of the grant, Rambatt provided the FFA with statistics on how many area students are on free or reduced lunch. She also provided information on how many people receive aide from the food pantry.

What they are doing

There are four beds of vegetables being planted within the school’s greenhouse. Rambatt said beets, lettuce, spinach, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini and carrots have been planted. She has the vegetables growing in cycles, which will ensure that a consistent stream of veggies are being donated to the pantry.

There are also three fish tanks where students are raising tilapia, channel catfish and bluegills.

Seven chickens are laying eggs. Rambatt said each chicken should lay one egg a day, and she is hoping to donate a minimum of two dozen eggs a week.

Rambatt, who raises chickens at home, believes there is a difference in taste between farm fresh eggs and the ones bought in the store.

“I’ve raised chickens at home and eat eggs at home,” she said. “I go to school and elsewhere and I don’t care for those eggs. These eggs are of a higher quality.”

Seventy-five chickens also will be raised at the school, divided into in three cycles of 25. Rambatt said it will take about eight weeks to raise the birds, which will then be processed and donated to the pantry.

Big Foot High School students also will learn to process the fish and chickens for consumption.

Countless hours have been spent by Rambatt and other students to get this project off the ground.

Rambatt said 20 students are involved at different levels of the project. Some have simply helped set up, and others are actively participating in planting vegetables.

Rambatt, O’Donnell and other volunteers also plan on dedicating their time to the project during the summer.

In December, Big Foot Agriculture teacher Rick Henningfeld asked Rambatt if she would be interested in filling out the 2012 FFA Food For All Application. From there, the project took off.

Rambatt jumped at the opportunity, began designing plans and was approved for the grant.

Until next year, Rambatt plans on being involved with the project. When she graduates from Big Foot, she won’t be stepping away from agriculture.

Rambatt plans on attending either the University of Wisconsin—River Falls or UW-Platteville to major in agriculture education.