East Ascension FFA takes first place award honors

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen
East Ascension FFA members Steven Jackson and Trey Robinson with Tiffany Ballow, Louisiana Nutrients for Life Regional Representative.

The East Ascension FFA chapter was announced as the Nutrients for Life Foundation’s 2014-15 Helping Communities Grow chapter recognition program winner in Louisiana. East Ascension FFA won $3,000 for writing, filming, and presenting an educational movie at George Washington Carver primary school. In the movie, third-grade students were cast as nutrients, defenders of plant food, or villains, nutrient deficiencies. After production of the movie, it was sent with the supplemental resource, Nourishing the Planet in the 21st Century curriculum to all middle and primary schools in the community. Secondly, the East Ascension FFA chapter improved local food production by helping gardeners diagnose plant nutrient deficiencies. As a result of their hard work, they were able to increase production of plants in their greenhouse dramatically resulting in a twenty percent increase in plant donations to the community and an increase in yields in the community garden. The East Ascension community has more color and healthy food options as a result of the FFA chapters focus on plant nutrients.

“I am so impressed with these hard-working, knowledgeable, and creative students. The projects submitted to the Helping Communities Grow FFA chapter competition were outstanding,” said Nutrients for Life Foundation Executive Director Harriet Wegmeyer. “Not only did each chapter submit a project that educated their community about the important role of fertilizer, they expanded their leadership ability, communications skills and knowledge base during the year-long projects.”

The Franklinton FFA chapter won second place and $2,000 for their work to launch the Helping Communities Grow program in their community and school. Members gained a wealth of knowledge by creating an aquaponics system. They learned that ammonia, a form of nitrogen, is readily produced by fish. The system uses nitrates and nitrites, converted from ammonia in fish waste, to grow lettuce. Members carefully monitored nutrient levels in the water. They also learned the importance of maintaining a healthy pH level. This level directly affects how efficiently plants absorb nutrients. With this new system and knowledge, they created a miniature aquaponics system and showcased it at a local events to teach community members about the importance of nutrients in healthy plant growth.

The Northwest FFA chapter won the $1,000 third place award by working in their community garden, as well as going to a local men’s mission and improving their garden. The goal was to maximize vegetable production with the correct amount of fertilizer used, and therefore, reduce the amount of possible nutrient runoff. To achieve this goal they collected information about the soil and learned how to diagnose nutrient deficiencies and prevent runoff. After the FFA members became familiar with running the soil nutrient test, they went to the Lighthouse Mission, a men's shelter in the community. The FFA helped them increase crop yields through better understanding of plant nutrient requirements. They also learned how to test for nutrient deficiencies and amend the soil with proper fertilizer use. After much discussion about the yellow tinted plants in the Mission’s garden, they all suspected a nitrogen deficiency. At the conclusion of the site evaluation, FFA members went back to school where they ran a soil analysis and it proved there was a nutrient deficiency in the Mission’s garden. They created a fertilizer mix ratio and corrected the soil deficiency. Everyone looks forward to a productive harvest.

Students in participating FFA chapters developed and executed community-based education programs based upon the Nutrients for Life Foundation curriculum, Nourishing the Planet in the 21st Century. This free curriculum, developed by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study and reviewed by the Smithsonian Institution, provides field-tested, standards-based classroom activities to help tomorrow's generation realize that the challenge of feeding our growing population can be solved with science.

The Helping Communities Grow chapter recognition program encourages FFA students to help the public become better informed about plant nutrients and related agricultural issues. During the project, students gained skills in leadership, public speaking, team building and community awareness while increasing knowledge of soil science and agricultural issues.

The Nutrients for Life Foundation program in Louisiana is supported by the program’s founding sponsor, PotashCorp. Louisiana FFA chapters are encouraged to submit letters of intent and pre-project summaries by the November deadline for 2014-2015 school projects. Details can be found at www.nutrientsforlife.org.

For additional information contact:

East Ascension FFA Advisor, Kiesha Nall at 337-789-6219 or kiesha.nall@apsb.org