Meet the FFA Recipients of the Future Organic Farmer Grant Fund Awards!

The Future Farmers of America (FFA) was founded in 1928 by a group of young farmers with a mission to train future generations of American youth to meet the challenge of feeding a growing population. Today, their classes and clubs reach hundreds of thousands of young people across the United States. For the most part, these agriculturally-minded youth are trained in conventional agriculture. Now, through an innovative partnership with the CCOF Foundation’s Future Organic Farmer Grant Fund, FFA students will have access to funding for organic projects. Hear from the FFA grant recipients about their Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) projects and future plans below. These grants were made possible by contributions from CCOF, UNFI Foundation, Driscoll’s, Bradmer Foods, Organic Valley, and the National Cooperative Grocers Association.

Adel Battel, Michigan | Project: Organic Maple Syrup

“I plan to start an organic maple syrup business. I will be starting with 66 trees and 130 taps. I will tap the trees, boil the sap, package the syrup and sell the finished product. I will also do some labor for my grandpa who owns the boiling and canning equipment in exchange for use of it. To sustain this project I will follow generally accepted guidelines for tapping. I will provide a safe, delicious product that will keep customers coming back. I will invest in equipment that will be durable so I can use it for years. This grant will start my operation this year and will be sustained by investing the money I make in future years. I am the sixth generation to make maple syrup and have grown up with it; my family will provide expertise on how to keep this project going. My grandfather switched to tubing years ago so he no longer has buckets or spiles for me to use. I need this grant so I can get an early start in the syrup business. I hope to inherit my family's woods and I want to have experience running the business.”

Alison Moechnig, Minnesota | Project: Organic Market Garden

“Growing up on an organic dairy farm has given me the opportunity to observe and be part of the organic process. I'll start my seeds inside in a small greenhouse in February. Due to limited space, my garden will start out as .25 acres. I plan to raise at least 10 different varieties of vegetables that I will market and sell at the farmers’ market. Our property is already certified organic so I won't have to go through the wait period for lands to be certified. After the first year of my production, I will evaluate how things went and write up a new plan and also look to expand. This grant is what I need to get my SAE off to a good start. Because the apple orchard store is only open a certain time of the year, my finances change when I no longer have a job. My largest expenses are the tiller, fencing to go around the garden, and the organic certification of my produce. Being organic, there will be a slight increase in seed price, making it more expensive to purchase the seeds on my own. I realize that there will be higher costs, and will continue to find ways to make sure that I have the costs covered, which would include working for my parents on the farm.”

Angela Munoz, Arizona | Project: Organic Layer Hens

“After starting on December 1, 2014, I plan to raise all organic laying hens through high school. I'm starting with nine pullets and raising them in a 100 square foot plus plot of land. This is unique because I'm doing this in a city backyard, with limited space. The project will cost about $1,500. Acquired school knowledge will be used such as math, organization skills, and problem solving skills to plan. For sustainability I will use home remedies, knowledge on cost effectiveness, and common sense. My goals are to sell homegrown organic eggs, learn about organic farming, and expand my operation. I am a sophomore in high school with little-to-no work history and I lack financial resources to fund my project. This grant will help get my project started so that I can still dedicate all of my time to taking care of my chickens.”

CJ Pawlak, Wisconsin | Project: Organic Heritage Hogs

“My SAE is in hog production; raising four organic heritage hogs. A heritage hog is a type of hog that is nontraditional in that it has higher back fat and takes a 10-12 months to finish out. I own four heritage hogs, two Wooly pigs, and two Big Black hogs, which I raise in a pen behind my parents’ garage. I am working with restaurant owners in the marketing and selling of my hogs. The money from the sale will go into the purchase of eight more hogs. This grant will sustain my SAE by providing a shelter for the hogs – a necessity in weather protection. I have a collaborator: a restaurant owner in Madison, Wisconsin. He gives me financial advice, helps me with networking with farmers to buy my hogs, and lets me sell my hogs back to him to be sold at his restaurant. This grant will benefit the expansion of my SAE by giving financial support to build a proper shelter for my hogs in the Wisconsin winter and be able to house more hogs, and hopefully expand even more year after year. Every year I hope to add to my hog shed by making improvements, to house even more pigs, and to buy more land. This grant will help me in more ways than I can count.”

Daniel Williamson, Minnesota | Project: Water Monitoring of Conventional Farm

“My project is investigating whether a wetland will remove contaminants from a conventional field before it reaches our organic farm. I started testing the turbidity of the water weekly this past spring. I also tested three times for nitrates and phosphates to establish a control for the 2015 phase. This phase will start when the snow melts this spring. I will test 3-4 times a month for nitrates and phosphates and continue the weekly turbidity tests. I am working with a water scientist to analyze my data and plan the continuing investigation. In 2016, I will add additional testing locations. I plan to request funding from the local watershed and Soil & Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) to help cover the cost of some testing. I will pay the remaining amount from earnings from my other SAEs. The SWCD provided me with $100 in 2014 and is willing to continue that each year for the duration of my project. In the 2014 phase, the Middle Fork Crow River Watershed District (MFCRWD) let me borrow their testing equipment (telescoping water sampler and Carolina Turbidity Tube). Since I report my findings to the MFCRWD for their research, I can continue to use their equipment. However, I would like to one day buy my own testing supplies. This grant will be used to fund an experiment. One of the problems with experimentation is that it is hard for it to fund itself. In phase one, I did turbidity testing which is free (except for the equipment). The data I collected tells me how clear the water is. However, I want to know if chemicals from a conventional field are removed by a wetland before it enters our farm. The turbidity test will not tell me what is in the water. In order to find that out, I have to send the water samples to a lab for analysis. The funding from this grant will allow me to test enough samples in 2015 to reach a reliable conclusion on whether or not the wetland is removing contaminants.”

Kimberley Vargas, California | Project: Organic Pork

“I would like to start my own business of producing organic pork. I plan to purchase two market hogs and immediately start feeding them an organic grow ration. I have done preliminary research on organic feed sources and will continue research for organic resources in my community. Some management considerations include isolation from nonorganic contaminants and organic husbandry and veterinary practices. I would like to discover if the costs of raising a meat product organically is feasible as well as healthy. I plan to sell the hogs at the fair and reinvest in more for next year. I am hoping this grant will help fund the majority of my organic pork project as I would not be able to afford to do this on my own. My FFA chapter has been raising organic apples and peaches and has sold them to our cafeteria. This is what gave me the idea of raising and selling organic meat. I come from a Hispanic background and pork is a huge part of our diet. I know that I would have great support from my community for the sales of the pork. I will be able to house and utilize my school's farm, pens, and tools. My advisor and the advisory committee will also assist in locating organic livestock.”

Liliane Watkins, North Carolina | Project: Organic Plant Starts

“My family moved to a neglected farm this summer and on part of the property, there is a former nursery site with the post-holes for a large greenhouse, an existing 60 amp sub-feed electrical panel, a water supply connected to a well that no longer has a pump, and greenhouse tables. For my SAE, I would like to reconstruct this greenhouse (hoop house), replace the jet pump on the well to supply water to the greenhouse and garden, and start a business selling organic starter plants in the spring and organic produce from our own property throughout the summer and fall. Receiving this grant will be a huge help to my family. It will make my SAE something really wonderful: something I could grow and learn from and something my family and I could keep for years. This grant would make that possible.”

Madison Cook, Delaware | Project: Organic Vegetables and Food Security

“Food insecurity is a growing concern in America and I would like to increase my part in providing for those less fortunate than me. Last year I started a raised bed garden (64 square feet), grew organic vegetables, and put a small produce stand at the end of my driveway. This year I would like to increase the number of raised beds I have and also make my produce stand more durable and shaded. Last year my prices were much lower than the supermarket. I also had a few customers that were able to get additional items at no cost that I knew would benefit them. This grant will allow me to greatly increase my impact on the community not only through providing food, but also allowing others to learn more about how easy it can be to grow organic produce. Since my father is in a wheelchair full time, the raised beds allow him to be more of a participant without getting stuck in the worked soil. Raised beds would also be beneficial to others with physical disabilities. My goals include bringing others to help and learn in my garden and this grant will allow me to do that. Giving someone free food helps them for a day. Teaching them to grow food helps them for life.”

Shyla Cook, Alaska | Project: Organic Rabbit Meat (and Fur Hats)

“My SAE is geared to bring a sustainable meat and fur source to Southeast Alaska. As of right now, Alaskans import 95% of their food. My intent is to provide an organic, healthy choice of meat. I can raise the rabbits with low overhead and rapid population expansion to make a high turnover/profit margin. Buying two does and one buck in December will have them ready to breed by May. With a twenty-eight-day window to produce, I will then expect them weaned and ready for processing three months later. I will expand my operation buying from outside lines, fur hat sales, and manure sales for gardens. I have located breeders on a local island with unrelated rabbits for ordering stock in addition to ordering from Southcentral Alaska. The use of island airplanes makes this possible. I will jump-start my business with babysitting money, some of my savings, and a part time job. I hope then to reinvest with income made from my meat or hats. I will put some money into the business account for expenses and some toward more rabbits. My business, Nummy Bunny, seeks to create a market for Alaskan organic rabbit meat prices.”

Travis Gordon, Michigan | Project: Organic Bee Keeping

“I will start with three bee hives and place them at our school organic gardens. Then I’ll expand to local organic growers and learn enough to start an organic honey sales business and purchase a local bee keeper’s equipment who is planning on retiring.. There are more than 1,000 acres of organic fruit and vegetables in our region with a big need for organic bees for pollination. The money from the grant plus the help of the local bee keeper and organic farmers will make this project successful. The project will fill a need for pollination of fruit and vegetables in our area that could be a full time business when I graduate.”