School may be out for the summer, but this Wisconsin FFA student isn’t hanging up his shovel and spade. In fact, he’s digging right into his freshman year as the Bangor FFA garden manager.
“I choose to be the garden manager because I like working in the dirt and helping the community that needs it,” said Dustin Heitkamp. “It will be a great learning experience for me and other people that come out to help in the garden.”
The one-acre field, aka the Answer Plot, was started three years ago thanks to a donation from WinField Solutions to the Bangor FFA and West Salem FFA chapters. All produce harvested is donated to the WAFER Food Pantry in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Last year the garden generated more than 14,000 pounds of produce for the food pantry.
While Heitkamp is the only FFA student that applied for the garden manager position this year, the Answer Plot is in good hands under his management. After all, Heitkamp is a third-generation gardener and quite comfortable in the dirt.
“I have been working in the garden since I was old enough to put a plant in the ground,” Heitkamp said.
This year Bangor FFA chapter received a $500 grant and Heitkamp has stepped up the assortment of produce in the Answer Plot. Previously home to core crops such as potatoes, squash, and zucchini, this year’s plot features peppers, tomatoes, kohlrabi, potatoes, cabbage, eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, pie pumpkins, jack-O-Lanterns, rutabaga, beans, and cucumbers.
Heitkamp’s day-to-day this summer will involve checking for bugs that are eating the plants, taking care of the weeds that are coming through, and harvesting the produce when it comes in. He will also be directing a team of volunteers.
Heitkamp said he plans to be at the garden 5-10 hours a week, but will all depend on when produce is coming in.
Heitkamp has already taken some of his experience gardening at home and applied it to the Answer Plot.
“I have learned how to put plants in the ground if they are tall and spindly,” Heitkamp said. “Also, when the cages need to go on the tomatoes so that they do not rot on the ground.”
Heitkamp has three tips for fellow gardeners this summer:
- Use your space wisely.
- Get tomato cages on when the plants are small.
- Keep the bugs under control so that you do not lose any plants to bugs.
Heitkamp says other FFA chapters should consider a garden project.
“I would consider other FFA chapter to put a garden in because it serves the community and you can teach kids how to garden,” Heitkamp said.