‘Meals to the Fields’ FFA project supports farmers

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Central FFA members Tate Berns and Gavin Holst delivered “Meals to the Fields” as part of a project for their independent agriculture class. (Submitted photo)

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


The Central FFA program continues to set the bar for community service projects, the latest being a “Meals to the Fields” initiative spearheaded by Gavin Holst and Tate Berns.


The project idea, which is new to Central this year, was given to the students by teacher Meghan Bond as part of their independent agriculture class. Bond had seen other FFA chapters do similar projects and this one stood out to her for several reasons. 


“I gave this idea to the young men as an independent study project [because] we live in a very rural community where many people’s livelihoods depend on jobs in agriculture. Farming is just one of them. Farming happens to be where all those jobs start. Farmers feed and fuel the people,” Bond said. 


Once Berns and Holst selected the project, which essentially is delivering meals to farmers in the field, they began brainstorming ideas and created a rubric to follow, which would ultimately decide not only their grade, but how many lunches to deliver. The number the two settled on was 50, which they thought was doable given the fact this is the first time the project was being attempted. 


While they could not offer a comparison to other FFA chapters, Bond did stated it was a “great number to start with to ensure success in the project,” while noting  there is room for expansion. 


Berns and Holst wanting to do more than what felt like a bare minimum also drove part of the decision to do 50 lunches. They not only wanted to earn their grade, but help as many farmers as possible within the limits of their capabilities as high school students.  


However, first things first: they had to decide what was going into the sack. They didn’t hesitate to suggest a sandwich, chips and bottled water, but the other items took a bit more calculation, since they wanted to make sure no utensils were required and everything could be eaten as if it were finger food. Ultimately, the sack lunches included a sandwich, bag of chips, apple or banana, snack cake and bottle of water. 


The lunch also included a note thanking farmers for “providing food and fuel” for the community. 


Acquiring the supplies to fill those sacks required Berns and Holst to request funding from their FFA chapter, establish a budget and purchase items within that budget. All is part of planning and executing a successful community service project. 


After receiving $300 in funding, they shopped at Wilke’s and Dollar General, coming in well under budget. The two only spent $190, which came as a nice surprise. 


From there, the lunches needed to be made, which required some assistance from the boys’ eighth hour class. This is where other key learning aspects of the class come into play, such as food sanitation and safety, communication skills and working with others. 


According to Bond, it also illustrated the idea of “learning to give of themselves for the good of others.” After all, it was their time that was being consumed as they worked to provide for someone else. 


When it came time for delivery, Berns and Holst had all the lunches packed and ready to go and they had a vehicle, but they really didn’t have much of a plan as to where or who to deliver them to. They started driving at 5 p.m., after cross country practice, visiting a few farmers they knew. That only accounted for around 10, which meant they still had 40 sacks to go to hit their target. 


They just started driving around the area, looking for farmers on the road or lights from tractors in the fields. The two drove out to the farmers, got their attention and presented the sack lunch. 


“The smiles on some of their faces was priceless for sure,” Berns said. 


By the end of the trip, which concluded at around 8:30 p.m. when the last sack was dropped off, the two had driven all across the county, from Elkader to Elgin to Monona, Luana and St. Olaf,  and out near Farmersburg and Garnavillo. The half tank of gas they used to “make a lap around most of the county,” as Berns joked, was worth it to see the smiles and joy the lunch brought the farmers, who were respectful and thankful, even as a random truck with teenagers approached them in the night. 


After each visit, Berns and Holst posed for a selfie with the farmers to document the project. 


Some of the sack lunch recipients posted their appreciation on social media, including T-A Cattle and Covers in Garnavillo, who posted “As we were finishing up fixing hydraulic hoses, a truck came rolling into the field and two very polite young gentlemen got out of the truck and asked, ‘are you guys hungry? Need some dinner?’ Meals in the Field! Tate Berns and Gavin Holst are delivering food to the field to farmers during harvest! Kudos to you boys. Keep up the good work! We appreciated the goodies tonight!”


Another thank you was posted by Keppler Custom Hire in St. Olaf, which said, “Special thanks to Central FFA students Tate Berns and Gavin Holst for visiting us in the field yesterday. What a nice surprise!”


When it comes to why they chose this particular project, Holst joked his “grade depended on it.” However, in reality, the grade was secondary because they could’ve received a passing grade by making the rubric easier, delivering fewer lunches and driving far fewer miles. 


So what motivated them? For Holst, it has to do with his own experience working in the fields, knowing that feeling of hunger with no one around to deliver a much-needed boost. It was also important for Holst to demonstrate that Central’s FFA chapter is here to help the community, and they take every opportunity the independent agriculture class gives them to do just that. 


“I would’ve still volunteered for it even if it wasn’t for a grade,” Holst said. “We’re here for the citizens of our community.”  


As for Berns, it was about “helping out the people” that put in the long hours during harvest season, working a difficult job. It’s also about community.


Berns stated, “the community supports us, so we support them. If we didn’t have a community, we wouldn’t have anything to build around. It takes a village.”


According to Bond, the two students personify what community service means.


“Gavin and Tate’s execution of the project went very well. The project seemed to be well received in the community. These young men are both humble young men and there’s no doubt that this project was one they really enjoyed because they enjoy doing for others,” she said.

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