The Strathmore FFA Farm is taking shape with the 12 acres of Ag land added to the school’s farm last year. A part of the Porterville Unified School District, Strathmore has seen huge developments in its FFA program with two new greenhouses, its CropBox operational, a new farm store, and new livestock pens being built.
One of the new 40×60-foot greenhouses is to be an aquaponics unit. Not up and running yet, the aquaponics house will utilize the partnership between growing plants without soil and raising fish in the environment. The other is a more traditional greenhouse, although better equipped to handle extreme temperatures with a retractable roof and heating pads for new plantings.
The Ag department’s CropBox is a portable facility providing a maintained environment for crop growth. Plants thrive without weather fluctuations or pests, while conserving water. According to the company, Williamson Greenhouses, a CropBox uses “90% less water than conventional and greenhouse cultivation.”
Currently one-half of the CropBox is planted with lettuce, said FFA senior Tanner Nuckols. The CropBox is maintained at 75 degrees, 24-hours a day, he said, and the crop should be ready within 30 days of planting, faster than it would take in traditional ground growth. This will be the first crop raised in the new CropBox.
Much of the newly added acreage of the farm has needed electrical lines and plumbing pipe laid to various locations including the CropBox. The students, including Nuckols, have been responsible for laying those lines, said FFA Advisor John Akin.
The greenhouses, too, needed the lines with one now fully operational. The schools ornamental horticulture classes are often held in the greenhouse, where students learn how to germinate seeds and transplant plants into large containers, said Vivian Youngblood, a senior. The hot pads help germinate seeds faster with newly planted eggplant seeds germinating in three days.
But, the school continues to grow vegetables under more traditional methods in various plots of its large garden area. Here, too, experimental plots are designed to help students learn variables in crop growth with differing amounts of water, or fertilizer and other soil amendments, Akin said.
In the new farm store, students will offer much from the farm, as well as the rest of the school. Plans are to decorate the walls with old orange crates, Youngblood said, a reminder of the area’s agricultural history.
“Students can decide what they want to market,” said Vice Principal Doug Ihmels.
The store will be run through Ag business classes and senior FFA members. Offerings at the store will include freshly-grown produce including vegetables and citrus from the farm trees, herb plants and houseplants, and farm-fresh eggs. Floral designs and other projects will be available from the horticulture classes. And, the store may also offer some art projects developed through the school’s art classes.
New livestock pens are being built by students to hold project animals including beef steers, goats, lambs, pigs and chickens. The new hen coop, built by students over the summer, holds the schools laying hens along with two roosters, kept to encourage the hens to lay eggs, Nuckols said.
Strathmore FFA has also purchased some show chickens – Frizzles, Polish and Silkies – available for students to purchase as fair projects to exhibit at the Porterville Fair in May. Each pair of project chickens is housed in their own pens, built by students. Those involved the projects are responsible for the care of their chickens, which will be show at the fair and offered for sale during the Jr. Livestock auction.
The school has now developed a vet clinic for hands-on training with vaccinating and suturing performed on dummy animals, said FFA senior Teresa Meraz. They also learn how to handle animals including the clinic cat, Violet, who purrs her way through various examinations. The clinic is equipped with an x-ray view box and old x-rays donated by area veterinarians. There is also a reception area, for training on handling phones and incoming clients.
Any student from Porterville Unified or Lindsay may join the pathway and participate in the Strathmore experience, Akin said.
“We want to evolve with agriculture,” he said. “We want to be a resource for the community with Ag education and reaching out to the community.”
FFA students offer farm tours to elementary students throughout the school year.
The restructuring of the Strathmore department is a reflection as to “how important technology is now,” Akin said. “It’s not just plants in the field – there’s a lot more to it.”
The farm store will be open occasionally this spring, when there is produce to sell. Starting next fall, the plan is to open one day a week and for special occasions. The school is looking to have up to three large sales each year – a Christmas sale and maybe one for Mother’s Day, Akin said. Students will be involved this summer planting a pumpkin patch to open prior to Halloween.
“He’s been very progressive with kids learning,” Akin said, “and very generous.”
Much of the development has been available due to the district’s seeking and securing various financial grants.
Strathmore High has almost 300 students enrolled in FFA with 120 freshmen. That’s a 30-35% upgrade from last year’s freshmen, Akin said.
As for the FFA seniors, they are glad to be a part of it.
“Leaving the Ag farm will suck, but we can always come back and see how much it has grown,” Youngblood said.
Youngblood and Nuckols will not have to travel too far, for the next two years they will attend College of the Sequoias. Youngblood will major in plant science; Nuckols in animal science and he plans on advancing to a four-year school. Meraz is enlisting in the army, where she hopes to put some of her high school education to good use.
“This [the Strathmore Ag Farm] should have legs for kids for a long time,” Ihmels said. “It should offer decades of student projects and student learning.”