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Nebraska FFA chapter digs deep to open greenhouse

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A Nebraska FFA chapter almost didn’t see their first-year student-run greenhouse come to fruition this spring after discovering their soil was contaminated.

“After we planted our plugs it took about a week to notice that the plants were not doing good. So, we fertilized and water. They just kept getting worse. We tested the water — it was good,” said Timothy Potter, Lexington FFA Advisor.  “We then turned our attention to the soil.”

Since the school had a soil mixer, Potter felt that the students would learn more if they had to research and mix their own soil. After locating available top soil near an area that was under construction, the students figured out the proper mix needed and spent a couple of days just mixing soil.

However, when the students started testing the soil, they found the pH level was high. They added chemical to bring down the level, but it never came down. After that, Potter asked a friend to come in and give some advice.

“He took some soil and tested it and told me that it was contaminated. I did some resource on my own about the area we received the soil and found out it was an old slough,” Potter said. “It was an old area were the town dumped all the snow removal and city run off would end up there.”

It took two days for the six FFA students and Potter along with his para educator to replant everything.  The additional cost was about $200 in potting soil.

Potter said the chapter had planned to open the greenhouse right after Easter or the first of May, but with the contamination this year were not able to open until June.

But that hasn’t stopped sales.

“As for the community feedback, I had people asking me if we were doing the plants sales again and when we would start selling as far back as February,” Potter said. “The community was really excited to hear about the sales and have been great supporter of FFA. “

While greenhouses are common Nebraska FFA fundraiser projects, this is the first year the Lexington FFA students have ran the greenhouse. The funds will help the chapter travel to the National FFA convention and go to workshops.

The project also contributes to the community garden and the middle schools “after school” program by starting vegetable plants for them and donating the plants.

“I decided that having the students run the greenhouse they see firsthand many different levels. They first have to learn management, then marketing and sales and finally work habits,” Potter said. “I feel if they have to put the work into growing the plants to sell they will understand and see a fulfilling end by watching people buy what they have created.”

And despite the replanting kink, the students have said they enjoyed working in the greenhouse and watching the plants develop.

“By having the students run the greenhouse, it also gives them a little pride and confidence in themselves,” Potter said.

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