Student Producers for the Future

Project Overview

FNC03-457
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2003: $5,960.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $76,427.00
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:

Commodities

  • Vegetables: peppers, tomatoes
  • Additional Plants: ornamentals

Practices

  • Education and Training: demonstration, participatory research
  • Production Systems: holistic management

    Summary:

    PROJECT BACKGROUND
    Ocean farm is 155 acres located 3 miles east of Golden, Illinois. A 2.5 acre pond on the farm was named “The Ocean” by our granddaughter. Since then, the property has been known as Ocean Farm. the 2002, the Friends of Ocean Farm established their nonprofit status and set up an advisory board to help the farm become a place where wholesome food is grown in harmony with the environment. A contour strip cropping system that uses corn, soybeans, alfalfa, oats and buckwheat has been implemented to improve soil health. A riparian corridor on the farm has been enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. A prairie planting and native forest planting offer wildlife habitat, erosion protection, and improve water quality along the La Moine River tributary on the farm. I have had a long history of working with sustainable agriculture and was a founding member of the Western Illinois Sustainable Agriculture Society in 1987. Ocean Farm has been the host farm for many field days for WISAS, as early at 1987. The farm was certified fully organic in 2001. I also lease a few acres to Edwin Waters, an organic gardener. “Farmer Ed” sells CSA subscription and produce to local (Quincy area) consumers.

    PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESUTLS
    The objective of this project was to provide a “hand on” project for area students to learn about growing their own food. Interested teachers and students were to be given the opportunity to visit Ocean Farm to grow and care for the plants. Then the students were to help market the excess vegetables. I hope the students involved in this project develop a greater respect for the soil and other resources. I also hope the project has encouraged some of them to pursue agriculture as a vocation.

    Process:
    After the grant was written, the school was able to get a small green house of its own and we decided to use their green house for germination and early plant growth. This would allow the students to be even more involved with the early growth process. In December, 2003 I began advertising for a project manager to work at Ocean Farm. This project would be one of the projects operated by this project manager. Diana Oldfather was hired as project manager in February 1, 2004. Diana worked to locate seed sources for organic tomatoes, peppers, and flowers. It was important to keep everything at Ocean Farm organic. Then she took the seeds, flats, organic soil and other supplies to the school. She gave a short presentation on how to grow the plants. She also showed them about plant nutrition and pH. The students planted the seeds, under the direction of Mr. Glick. The students cared for the plants and kept records of their care and outcomes. The students learned firsthand how fragile tiny plants were. Mr. Glick reported that many were lost in transplanting. Many others were lost due to over and under watering. The students learned that growing plants is not near as easy as it looks. In order to offset the high loss of plants at the school, Isabel and I also started some seeds and managed them in our home until the hoop houses were fully installed. The hoop houses came in April and were erected soon after. The plastic and mulch were prepared, ready for the plants to be set. At this time, Diana Oldfather resigned as project manager and left Ocean Farm. Diana had all the records and receipts and we were unsure of all she had done and what all needed to be done. However, we had deposited the grant funds in a checking account and had access to all the checks written on the account and used these to verify expenses for the grant. Mr. Glick delivered the plants that had been started by his students. As the end of the school year was nearing, there was not time for the students to help plant them in the hoop houses. Friends and neighbors came together to help Isabel and I transplant all the peppers and tomatoes into the waiting hoop houses. A Mennonite friend of ours was moving from the area and offered to sell us his list of buyers. We purchased his list and were able to contact many of the restaurants on the list and made arrangements to deliver the tomatoes and peppers. We hired labor to tend the plants, since Isabel and I were not able to do it all. In June, a severe wind storm came through our area and toppled one of the hoop houses. We made the decision not to rebuild the house, but keep the remaining house. We had quite a crop of tomatoes and peppers coming on and a daunting job of picking, marketing, delivering and selling the produce was more than Isabel and I were able to do alone. We hired students and others to do as much as possible. A delivery van had been purchased to haul the vegetables to restaurants and other markets, however, the van was put in Diana’s name and she took it with her when she left. With all these difficulties and our own health problems, we decided to find someone to take over the vegetable route. A local couple agreed to do this and they were able to harvest and market the tomatoes and peppers to a list of over 40 restaurants. We had hoped to track the plant varieties and evaluate the quality and quantity for better information. However, with so many different helpers, labels and markers became lost and mixed.

    People:
    – Diana Oldfather served as project manager from February 1 to April 30. During that time she purchased many of the items for the project. she also took the seeds, flats, and other materials to the school and helped get the students started.
    – Mr. Glick, Central High School Agriculture Instructor was very interested and helpful. The small green house at the school was a great way to get the students involved without them having to travel to Ocean Farm.
    – Mike Roegge, Extension Crop Specialist was vital to helping us after Diana left. Mike’s expertise in growing produce helped us get the plants in the ground and the project going. Mike also helped us purchase and install the watering system for the green house.

    Results:
    This project was set up to be hands on for the students involved. They were allowed to care for and transplant the plants. They had some difficulties, but did learn from the process. I think they have a better appreciation for how delicate plants are. They did enjoy the classes and look forward to doing other hands on projects in their green house. Participation was high among the students. I would recommend closer supervision of students in their day to day care of the plants, so that more plants made it to the size to be set in the hop house. If we had not grown and purchased, back up plants, there would not have been near enough plants to fill the hoop houses and supply the restaurant market.

    Discussion:
    This project has a lot of potential to be improved and replicated. A single project manager that stays involved with the entire project from start to finish would be great. I am very grateful for the cooperation of Mr. Glick and the school. Perhaps a few key older students could be trained to tend the plants and given responsibility for monitoring and training the other student participants.

    OUTREACH
    In February 2004, the Friends of Ocean Farm held a meeting at the Golden Café, in Golden, only 3 miles from Ocean Farm. The Quincy Herald Whig and the Golden New Era covered this meeting and provided a story in each of their papers. At this meeting, Diana Oldfather was introduced and the project was explained to everyone. Later, at Ocean Farm, we installed a Pizza Farm and hosted a media event to publicize the tours available. The green house project was also viewed and was included in the publicity. At the end of this project, Isabel and I reached the difficult decision to sell Ocean Farm. We will do our best to find a suitable buyer that will continue the sustainable agriculture projects that we have started. We have really appreciated working with the SARE program and have found the information and grants extremely helpful. Thank you all very much!

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.