Salmon H.S. FFA wins $11,500 in grants

The Salmon High School FFA chapter is raking in the cash for their efforts to identify and remedy food-related community needs, according to a news release.

Salmon agriculture teacher Katie Cooper and her 21-student FFA group — formerly the Future Farmers of America — received more than $11,000 last month in a grant and an award for their work.

The group won a $5,000 award from the Nutrients for Life Foundation for its educational outreach during this spring’s Ag Week. They also won a $6,500 hunger grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Youth Initiative and National FFA.

The nutrition outreach program was organized by eight students. Over a three-month period the students organized a multipartner community effort to educate K-12 students and the public in general about how soil health plays a key role in the nutrition contained in each plant. The group’s campaign culminated in several days of classroom lessons and a drive-up sack breakfast that contained nutrition information and recipes for adults. Cooper said her students reached more than 800 people with their nutrition information.

“The judges were absolutely impressed with the work that Katie and her students did,” said Harriet Hegmeyer, executive director of the Nutrients for Life Foundation. “What really sets Katie’s students apart is their creativity.”

Planning and organizing events like this teaches the students a lot, Cooper said.

“I see a huge change in self-confidence, leadership, public speaking, time management and community interaction skills,” she said. “They develop all those soft skills that employers look for: customer service, reliability, responsibility and the ability to make things happen.”

The $6,500 USDA grant came as a surprise, Cooper said. For the past two years she and her FFA chapter have won USDA grants for a countywide gleaning project that took them all over Lemhi County pruning old trees in the spring and gleaning their fruit in the fall. The produce went to a local food bank. Because Cooper and her students were suffering from burnout, she decided not to apply for a grant to continue the project this year.

Then came the surprise.

Stefonie Sebastian of the National FFA called and said she wanted Cooper to take a one-time $6,500 Rural Youth Development Grant requiring demonstrated community hunger needs, community partnerships and educational outreach.

Cooper didn’t have long to think about whether or not she had time to come up with a program for the grant, because within minutes the phone rang again. Sara Campbell, a VISTA volunteer for the Lemhi County Extension Office, was hoping to find help for a community garden.

The grant provided funding and labor for extensive upgrades to the gardens. She said she plans to use the $5,000 award to help pay for a new greenhouse.