By Matt Chaliff
With 1 in 6 Kentuckians identified as food insecure, hunger is a huge issue facing communities across the state. FFA members and chapters from across the Commonwealth are doing their part to eliminate hunger in a variety of ways.
Food insecurity is described by Feeding America as a household’s inability to provide enough food for every person to live an active and healthy lifestyle. According to State FFA Adviser Brandon Davis, hunger-related initiatives are a perfect fit for the FFA organization.
“Our vision is ‘Growing Leaders, Building Communities, and Strengthening Agriculture,’’ Davis said. “Hunger-related projects allow FFA members to experience all three components directly and personally. We encourage chapters to learn how hunger affects people in their communities and work with other groups to develop specific programs that meet local needs.”
Food collection and distribution
A number of chapters are involved in collecting and distributing nonperishable food items to those who are less fortunate. Jessamine County FFA’s food drive is in its 61st year and may be the oldest continuous FFA service project in the nation. The food drive includes a schoolwide assembly at each of the county’s two high schools, followed by FFA members delivering food baskets to dozens of families in the community.
Clark County FFA works with community groups such as Clark County Farm Bureau to produce and deliver about 80 Thanksgiving food baskets each year. One FFA member, Madison Williams, is donating money earned from her cattle project. According to FFA Adviser Terra Pigg, Williams’ generosity will help provide food for about 40 families.
Taylor County FFA’s 4th annual food drive collected more than 9,000 nonperishable food items that will be donated to Green River Ministries. The schoolwide food drive is a contest between first period classes and a design contest. The class that donates the most food items wins a breakfast party and the class with the best display gets a rotating plaque and bragging rights. This year’s theme was “Magic Candom” and classes constructed Disney-themed displays out of nonperishable items in the school gym.
Weekends and holiday breaks can be scary times for students who depend on school breakfast and lunch to provide their daily nutrition. Backpack programs attempt to address this by sending easy-to-prepare food items home with hungry students to help them make it through breaks.
In August, Marion County FFA members donated funds to adopt one student through Feeding America’s backpack program. Thanks to their generosity, this student gets a bag of 14-17 items slipped into their backpack each weekend. Feeding America provides backpacks to about 6,000 students each week.
Each Friday, Bourbon County FFA members work to pack about 30 backpacks for students in their school. Last school year, the grant that had provided funding for the food items ran out, so the chapter stepped up to sponsor a food drive. They collected more than 800 items, which allowed the program to continue through the school year. In January, they will be working with 4-H and the county Farm Bureau to sponsor a coat and food drive to benefit the backpack program.
Other chapters provide manpower to community groups that work to address hunger issues locally. Sixteen members of the Madison Southern FFA volunteered to process and load groceries at the Madison County Day of Hope this year. One of the event organizers said the FFA members were crucial to getting the project done.
For the past several years, LaRue County FFA members have spent a day of National FFA Week volunteering to pack food at Feeding America in Elizabethtown. About 40 chapter members give up an afternoon to provide manpower to help the organization package and prepare bulk foods for delivery. In 2017, their work helped feed 2,592 children.
Other chapters are taking what they’ve learned in the classroom about producing food and applying it to the challenge of local hunger. Rowan County FFA grew and donated 70 pounds of sweet potatoes this year, which were given away at the local commodity distribution day. For the past two years, Cooper FFA members in Boone County have grown produce in raised beds for donation to the local food bank.
Southwestern FFA in the Pulaski County School District has a flock of chickens that produce eggs that are donated to those in need. The chapter takes the project a step further by teaching community members how to care for their own chickens. Two to three well cared for chickens can provide enough eggs to supply a normal family with healthful protein on an ongoing basis.
Boyle County FFA is putting its raised bed gardens and greenhouse to good use in addressing hunger in its community. From March to October, chapter members raise tomatoes, cabbage, peppers, kale, potatoes and other vegetables, which are distributed through the school’s backpack program. Six chapter members manage the garden through the summer months as part of their supervised agricultural experience programs. For the past three years, they have averaged more than 800 pounds of produce per year.
“The fresh produce that FFA provides for families has been a nutritional addition to our weekend backpack program,” said Youth Service Director Sandra Clark. “For some families, this is the only way they can afford produce.”
Nicholas County FFA members are producing both fresh vegetables and protein for their community. Chapter members feed and care for a flock of 35 laying hens and a small garden. Eggs and produce are distributed through the school’s youth service center. To date, Nicholas County FFA has donated more than 100 dozen eggs and enough produce for several families.
Nicholas County FFA also hosted a Fall on the Farm Day, which taught students about nutrition, food insecurity and food production. The students recently expanded their flock of laying hens and have plans to expand their garden in 2018.
While these FFA chapter’s efforts to combat hunger feed hungry people in the short term, they shape the lives of FFA members in the long term.
“Until you make hunger real to members, they really don’t understand it,” said LaRue County FFA Adviser Misty Bivens. “These programs help members give back to the community and realize that hunger is a real issue in our community.”
State FFA Adviser Brandon Davis said he hopes members will adopt service as a way of life.
“Our motto includes the line ‘living to serve,’” Davis said. “We genuinely believe that FFA members who experience service on a personal level will be committed to service throughout their lives.”