New FFA chapter in Kake to explore mobile greenhouses

Historically, FFA has stood for Future Farmers of America. That’s not the case anymore.

“People have to expand their horizons and think outside the box,” said Marsha Cook, advisor for the Kake City School District FFA chapter, which just started in January. “It can be so many things now. It can be oyster farming, it can be fishing, it can be working with motors, welding, hydroponics.”

FFA is a student organization for those interested in agriculture and leadership. The Kake chapter has 11 members in grades 8-12.

About 200 students are members of Alaska FFA. Chapters are found throughout the state in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Palmer, Wasilla, Kenai, North Pole, Delta Junction, Kodiak and Ninilchik.

Starting next month, the Kake FFA students will learn how to grow food with a mobile greenhouse. It’s part of the Traveling Greenhouse Project through Grow Southeast and the Sustainable Southeast Partnership.

Kake will get the greenhouse for one growing season, from March to October.

“It’s supposed to be a stepping stone, a way for the community to engage in cultivating food,” said Lia Heifetz, food sustainability consultant for Sustainable Southeast Partnership.

The mobile greenhouse is also a mobile classroom. It comes with a curriculum and a step-by-step guide to making things grow.

With the vegetables they grow, Cook plans to teach the FFA students about starting and running a business. She said they’ll set up a vegetable stand in the summer.

“How many chances do they get to start a business at this age? They’ll find out how a business works, the economics of it, the hard work of it,” Cook said.

The profits will go toward future FFA trips, like the state convention held every April. This year, it’s in Palmer.

Cook said her daughter participated in the state convention in Anchorage last year where she learned things people might not associate with FFA.

“They did a marine competition up there and it was teaching how to mend nets, how to count salmon eggs, how to tell if an oyster was good or bad,” Cook said. “They learned how to use survival suits, what to do in an emergency situation.”

When the greenhouse leaves Kake in October, Cook doesn’t expect the food growing to end. She wants the students to use the mobile greenhouse as a model and build other greenhouses to sell in Kake.

She hopes FFA will expand to other Southeast communities as well.

“All these kids need some motivation to see what they can do in their lives and know that people care enough to help them succeed,” Cook said.

If you’re interested in starting an FFA chapter in your community, contact FFA Alaska state coordinator Kevin Fochs at 907-707-9710 or email kevinfochs@alaska.edu.

• Contact reporter Lisa Phu at 523-2246 or lisa.phu@juneauempire.com.

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