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Agriculture program teaches students about growing, giving

September 23, 2018

REHOBETH, Ala. (AP) — What once started out as a small garden behind the agriculture building at Rehobeth High School has grown — just like the seedlings that were planted there — in an effort across grade levels to serve the community.

Brad Willis, agriscience teacher at the high school, said the effort to teach children where their food originates started about eight years ago in one of his classes. Without any equipment except for an old, rusted tiller and a few seeds, Willis and his students helped the agriculture department grow, one plant at a time.

Today, the program looks nothing like it did eight years ago, but its humble mission still remains at its core. The school’s FFA program donates all of the goods to local shelters to feed families in need.

For many students with little background in agriculture other than a desire to help others, the class provides the perfect blend of hard work and dividends.

Alyssa Glover is one such student. She said she learned about the growing need for food only after signing up for the class. Now, as the Senior Vice President of the school’s FFA club, Glover said she is thankful to have had the experience in the fields to provide for those less fortunate.

“Instead of volunteering my time for an hour (at a shelter), I can come out here in the fields and put in some work during and after school, and on the weekends, and the community can benefit from the things we grow here at every meal. This is really love in action, and I wouldn’t give up this experience for the world” Glover said.

The hard work Glover mentioned is just what Willis had in mind when expanding the program.

After the school board purchased more land behind the football team’s practice field, the agriscience teacher quickly jumped on the opportunity to utilize the space to teach students the inner workings of creating produce.

“We sit down to eat every day and we take our food for granted because it’s always there. I wanted the kids to see what kind of work it takes to grow food so that they would develop and appreciation for it,” said Willis.

Appreciation for the growers is exactly what senior Andrew Warren has cultivated. Warren is the senior reporter for FFA at Rehobeth, and said his time in the club and working out in the fields has given him a newfound appreciation for every step of the food development process.

“It’s back-breaking labor, and personally I don’t know if I could do this every day. When you do something like this you realize how many fields and other careers also go into providing food to us, and you grow that respect for people that make this happen at every level,” said Warren.

Willis, Glover, and Warren are now utilizing their skills to spread appreciation for farmers and agricultural workers across both the elementary and middle school levels.

The collaboration with younger students came after Angie Linder and many others worked to receive a $4,000 bicentennial school grant for Rehobeth schools with the mission of strengthening the relationship between the schools and the community. After seeing how Willis’ program helped those in need in Houston County, Linder decided she wanted to use the grant to expand that effort through a program called, “Got Food? Thank a Farmer.”

This season, the students will help one another grow cabbage, collards, and broccoli. After harvesting, the groups will pair up again to plant and harvest strawberries for the spring season. The harvest will be circulated back into the community.

“We have the farmers getting involved with the high schoolers, that then turn that knowledge around and teach the middle schoolers, who then teach the elementary kids. It really is a great way to get everyone involved in our community and learn throughout the process,” Linder said. She added the grant will go toward supplies, including replacing Willis’ rusted tiller.

At the project’s core, Linder said she hopes “Got Food? Thank a Farmer” will not only teach children the importance of farming, but also the importance of giving back.

“I want kids to realize there are homeless people. Some may even be their own friends so I wanted them to know that people here need help. We thought this was a good way to teach them about how to serve others and bring everyone up. Through their sweat equity they will have the fulfillment of helping others,” Linder said.

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Information from: The Dothan Eagle, http://www.dothaneagle.com

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