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story.lead_photo.caption Meagan Forck, a junior at Blair Oaks High School, tends to raised garden beds in front of the Missouri Department of Agriculture on Missouri Boulevard in Jefferson City, as part of a project by the students in the Blair Oaks FFA chapter. Photo by Phillip Sitter / News Tribune.

A local chapter of the National FFA Organization has been growing community service this summer — literally growing it, on the vine.

Students in the Blair Oaks FFA chapter have been tending all summer to the raised garden beds in front of the Missouri Department of Agriculture on Missouri Boulevard in Jefferson City.

Jeff Suthoff, Blair Oaks High School FFA advisor and agriculture instructor, said the tomato, pepper, eggplant, herb and other plants in the gardens have produced one harvest so far, and all the produce is going to the Samaritan Center.

"It's going to run until the plants quit producing," Suthoff said of how long students will tend to the gardens.

About 20 students of the 85 or so Blair Oaks FFA members have been involved with the garden project over the summer, he said, and students work in teams responsible for four or five gardens — tending to the plants when they can.

"We have tomatoes, squash, peppers and herbs. We have six different varieties of peppers, four different types of tomatoes, and then just regular squash and herbs," junior Meagan Forck said Tuesday.

Forck said she does not garden at home — she lives and works with her family on a beef cattle farm, with row crops of corn and soybeans — but she appreciates and has learned from the opportunity.

"I just know that I'll make a difference in someone's life, so that's my challenge for change. I'm taking that challenge and doing my best," she said.

"Through FFA, we learned how to manage gardens over the last year, and it teaches us not only hard work, but the work that people have put in. It shows us what farmers are going through, through the droughts. When the rain and flooding came through, we had to be out and make sure that our plants weren't getting too flooded with the water. It showed us the difference that farmers are making each and every day, but in a smaller perspective," she said.

The wet weather at the beginning of the summer has not been much of an issue — not as much as deer, squirrels and other animals that have sometimes come to eat the fruits and vegetables, Suthoff said.

He said the Central Missouri Master Gardeners have helped by providing the plants in exchange for students' help with their plant sale earlier this year.

Forck said her favorite plant to work with is tomatoes, "just because they're used in a lot of different ways, and I personally just like tomatoes. You get different sizes, you get a different variety, just like you do in agriculture, just in everything. You get different people who bring different things to the table, just like a different tomato."

Blair Oaks' agriculture program is entering its third year, and two classes are being added, one in farm business management and the other in wildlife and conservation, Suthoff said.

He expected 80 students would be involved with agriculture classes this year — about the same as last year.

Watch this story's accompanying video on the News Tribune YouTube channel here.

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