AP NEWS

W.Va. teacher sells plants to benefit student ag program

June 1, 2019

BLACKSVILLE, W.Va. (AP) — Behind Clay-Battelle Middle/High School stands a 24-by-75-foot polycarbonate greenhouse.

Inside, there are four rows of ventilated, metal tables filled with flats, containing flowers and plants of bright reds, yellows, pinks and greens.

Hanging flowers fill the space above the flats. Through the small forest of greenery, a 5-foot-11 man is usually walking down each row, watering the plants.

For 20 years, Kent Saul has been teaching at Clay-Battelle Middle/High School. He teaches environmental and agricultural classes during part of his time and he spends the rest of it in the greenhouse.

Saul grows annual flowers such as petunias and begonias. He also grows vegetable plants, including lettuce and tomatoes. Saul sells plants the weekend before Mother’s Day up until June 10. The money he earns selling his plants goes toward the Clay-Battelle Future Farmers of America (FFA). He also sells his plants to Southern States in Bruceton Mills and Shriver Farm Services in Wana.

The flowers are also used in the annual Battelle District Spring Festival at the Wadestown fairgrounds.

Saul sells his plants by the flat to the two stores for a set price, and they resell them. Southern States has been working with Saul for three years. Lenny Osborne, garden and chicken consultant, said that it’s “wonderful” to work with Saul.

“Kent is a great guy . he’s always open to any suggestions,” Osborne said. “We click together; it works real well.”

Ron Kelly, manager of Southern States, said, “It’s rewarding to know you’re helping encourage the youth to stay involved in agriculture in some form.”

Kelly said business with Saul is something they look forward to continuing.

Saul acquired more gardening methods to grow his plants. Four years ago, he was approached by three students who wanted to try a hybrid form of gardening known as hydroponics.

Hydroponics is a method of growing plants in water-based and nutrient solution. This method uses a root system instead of soil, and it filters through with the fertilization from the fish in tanks in the middle room of the greenhouse. The nutrients they are using are snails — with over 1,000 snails aiding the plants’ growth in the greenhouse.

Saul’s day consists of students helping with watering the plants and slicing meat under his instruction. And he said they also create projects he helps them pursue.

Dylan Statler was one of the students who wanted to build a plan for expanding hydroponics in the greenhouse. Statler, a recent graduate of Clay-Battelle, created plans for a pyramidal structure for the greenhouse that coincided with his hydroponics interest.

There were already hydroponics in place, but Statler wanted to improve what was offered in the greenhouse. Along with his dad and grandpa, he took a weekend to build an A-frame structure that would take up little space in the greenhouse, but still hold a great amount of plants.

“It took some time to figure out what we wanted to build and how we wanted to build it,” Statler said. “I figured out that if you build up instead of just flat, you can get more plants in a small area.”

Statler said the old hydroponics system held only 20 plants and took up half the space in the back of the greenhouse. The new fixture Statler made holds 112 plants and occupies much less room.

“Saul’s helped a lot. All of the supplies come from him and it’s helped that I didn’t pay for it out of my pocket,” Statler said.

Saul said there are several students who are not in FFA, but take his classes just to be able to help out with the greenhouse.

What is set in place for next year, is an opportunity for community members to come and pick blueberries at the school. Saul said there will be more than 200 blueberry bushes added to the school facilities, in addition to a community garden.

Saul has kept the same formula throughout his years at Clay-Battelle, and that is, “If kids want to learn, I teach.” Saul has enjoyed being able to give students special projects, based on what they’re interested in. The students make their own decisions, and he guides them through it.

Statler said he has been able to go to Saul for anything — whether it is his interest in agriculture or simply advice on future endeavors.

“Saul’s a good teacher,” he said. “A lot of times, if he doesn’t know the answer, he will come out and help. If you don’t know it and he doesn’t know it, then he’ll go out there with you and you’ll learn together, he’ll help you with anything.”

Saul has a master’s degree in agricultural science from West Virginia University and an administration degree from Salem University. He takes pride in being able to use his skills to help his students succeed.

“It makes me feel good when I see my kids do well,” Saul said. “With my degrees, I could do something a lot more than this, but to me this is the most important thing I can do. I like being here and I like the kids.”

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Information from: The Dominion Post, http://www.dominionpost.com

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