RAISED BEDS: Members of the Raymond Central FFA chapter fill raised beds in the garden they are creating near the high school. Working at the garden last Thursday were students (from left) Burke Settles, Barrett Wahlahoski, Jaelynn Kliment, FFA sponsor/ag teacher Whitney Lehn and student Erica Donahue. (Staff Photo by Lisa Hanks)

RAYMOND – It all started with some weeds, and the dream of a pumpkin patch.

Last year Whitney Lehn, the agriculture teacher at Raymond Central High School, and Hailee Nelson, current FFA sentinel, wanted to grow a pumpkin patch. The pumpkin patch would be part of Nelson’s SAE (Supervised Agricultural Experience), which provides hands on experience to students.

They decided to scout for the perfect place for the pumpkin patch, which led them to the knee high field full of weeds, east of the Raymond Central shop, where they stumbled upon some raised garden beds and some blackberry bushes.

Corn knife in tow Burke Settles started clearing out the knee high weeds. Nelson, Alex Henry, Lehn and Settles made space for the patch. Once the space was cleared and ready, Nelson was able to plant her pumpkins, which she then sold at the fall fun festival.

This year, the garden’s second year the students’ SAEs are being done at the their homes or their grandparents houses, which opened up more space in the garden.

“This will be part of a five year plan” said Lehn.

The Raymond Central FFA is working with the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District (NRD) on a three-year plan which will include incorporating natural shrubs, trees, test plots and expansion to the south, the main goal being to provide an outside learning classroom.

This classroom will provide the hands on experience needed to achieve “work ethic and a greater retention level” said Lehn.

Barrett Walahoski, a sophomore and the current parliamentarian for the FFA chapter, added that working together has provided opportunities, teamwork, as well as friendships that have enhanced the chapter’s overall experiences.

The chapter’s current goals for the year are clearing out and planting some late crops, which they hope to sell at the fall festival. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the planting season is late this year. Normally they would have been planting in May as a chapter, but the restrictions prevented that as well as cancelling some other main events for the students.

“Meetings went virtual, no FFA banquet, no alumni fundraiser and the national convention was virtual” said Nelson, who is a freshman FFA member.

Lehn decided as part of a learning activity for her four-year-old son they would plant seeds in the spring since the chapter couldn’t meet for the planting in May. The FFA members would plant later, when the restrictions were lifted.

“Alex Henry, a recent 2020 graduate and FFA member, has also been an integral part of getting the garden ready to plant this season,” added Lehn.

Other students that have helped in the project are Jaelynn Kliment, Ben Kliment and Erica Donahue.

Some plants that they will incorporate into the garden are tomatoes, strawberries, cantaloupe, watermelon, peppers, onions and hopefully some short-growing season corn.

The blackberry bushes were already on the property, so they cleared out around them and decided to leave them as they were. Eventually they will incorporate fruit trees into the mix as well and all of these will be sold at the fall festival.

Barrett and Hailee said that the short term goal was to clear stuff out, but the long

term goal is to leave a legacy for students that will follow well after they have graduated.

“I will be incorporating the raised garden beds, in my classroom with the industrial tech students; we will build more garden beds to add to the outside classroom,” said Lehn.

Plans for the future depend on grants and funding which have been applied for by the chapter. The results of these grants applications won’t be known until at least August, so they are in the early stages of planning future allocation of funds.

One of these grants would go into incorporating aeroponics, which is the growing of plants by suspending their roots in the air and spraying them with nutrient solutions, as well as other hands-on activities to provide the hands on world experience that isn’t always accessible to students.

There was also talk of bee hives being incorporated, depending on school policies, insurance and funding. They also have plans of incorporating the produce raised into the family and consumer science program as well as into the school lunch program.

Lehn also wants students not involved in FFA to realize that it isn’t just about the agricultural experiences.

“You don’t need to be a farm kid, to be involved, FFA provides work ethic, business experience, leadership as well as a greater sense of community” said Lehn.

Lehn credits previous ag teacher Jeff Schellpepper, for being a mentor who helped her out a lot when she first started.

She has had many experiences that have led to her numerous successes as a teacher. She helped spearhead and start the Shelby/Rising City FFA chapter, which is now in its fifth year. She also taught at East Butler and is a graduate of Waverly High School.

The future for the Raymond Central FFA chapter looks bright and Lehn says she is excited to implement all the goals that chapter hopes to achieve.

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