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Spencer FFA seeking new greenhouse

By Staff | Feb 15, 2014

SPENCER FFA CHAPTER members Jacob Heikens, left, and Hunter White, work on a lab project.

SPENCER – Keaton Hildreth said the world of ag education and FFA is changing.

That being said, the Spencer High School ag education teacher and FFA advisor set out – with assistance from the Spencer Community School Foundation – to raise money for a greenhouse, which he hopes will broaden the scope of SHS’ agricultural education and better prepare students for ag-related careers in a changing world.

“This greenhouse will provide a hands-on, real-world application to what we’re already teaching,” Hildreth said. “We want students to be able to prepare for careers related to the greenhouse, or to at least be informed consumers and good decision-makers.”

The greenhouse, measuring 30-by-40 feet, will cost $75,000, and is expected to be completed in time for classes to begin next fall.

It will be located on the high school’s west side, just off of the school’s existing science wing, and plans call for it to be connected to a multi-purpose room for storage and other greenhouse-related needs.

“This greenhouse will provide a hands-on, real-world application to what we’re already teaching.” —Keaton Hildreth Spencer FFA advisor

Hildreth said there are 20 students taking a horticulture class, and officials want to make sure there is enough room for all of the students to have enough lab space for experimentation.

He said other classes could use the greenhouse – biology and chemistry – and that students will be able to advance their hands-on learning about basic agronomy issues.

It’s expected to engage students in the areas of horticulture, biology and environmental science, and expand classroom experimentation.

“We’ll use it to start vegetables and follow it with a spring plant sale,” Hildreth said, adding that they will also be able to start and grow flowering plants, hanging baskets, flower arrangements and poinsettias in time for the holidays.

“Growing poinsettias would be good,” Hildreth said, “because it’s all about the day length, coloring and temperature.”

Hildreth said the greenhouse would branch out into an agri-business arena, with students not only doing the hands-on work of starting and growing plants for sale, but would also run the sale and keep track of financial data.

Making it happen

Spencer High School has a strong FFA program and solid financial backing for the projects members do and trips they take.

FFA owns 13 acres of land near Spencer’s middle school, which it farms and receives incomes to add to the activity fund.

Hildreth said the chapter cash-rents 57 acres on the south end of town and has the use of newer, leased equipment from nearby Northwest Equipment in Spencer.

He said he knows how fortunate the chapter is to have all these asstes, yet something was still missing from the program – horticulture, landscaping and greenhouse science.

Hildreth said the current ag education area and space they were using for a greenhouse needed upgrading, especially with the way agriculture is changing.

The school had 60 ag education students when he arrived three years ago and now has 132 ag students/FFA members.

Many of his students don’t live on farms, but they are interested in ag careers and in areas like horticulture and landscaping.

The greenhouse was needed in order to satisfy the need for education in those areas, Hildreth said.

“I was thinking that most other ag programs around here have greenhouses, so why not Spencer?” he said. “So I talked to the school board and some people in the ag community and came up with this project.”

The Spencer School Foundation is taking the project to the community seeking financial backing.

Local agri-businesses have been contacted-ag lenders, seed dealers and a Spencer-based gardening and landscaping business.

So far, the community has been receptive to this idea, and Hildreth said the project is well on its way to becoming a reality.

“I feel this project is extremely important,” he said. “I think, moving forward, that this is what our program needs in order to offer students a comprehensive, well-rounded education.”

Hildreth said 100 percent of the FFA students have supervised agricultural experience projects, and the 28 laptops owned by Spencer FFA engage students in personalized agriculture experience racking – a web-based record-keeping program.

Ag classes offered there include agriculture introduction, food and natural scioences, animal science introduction, small animal science and pet care, survey of animal industry horticulture introduction, landscaping, agronomy and agriculture business.

FFA students at Spencer High School regularly attend the Iowa State Fair, Clay County Fair, the National FFA Convention and the Iowa FFA Leadership Conference.

Hildreth said the way Spencer’s ag ed and FFA programs are growing, this greenhouse will be a true asset.

“We have advanced to a new level of educating students for productive careers in agriculture,” he said.

Hildreth himself won’t see this project near its completion, as he got an opportunity to farm near Rockwell City with his family.

He’ll be leaving his post as ag education instructor and FFA advisor in March.

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